Have you used Survey Monkey to create online surveys? Well, SeaSketch is about to have similar capabilities so that you can collect spatial information and generate new datasets. How often have you been a part of a planning process where somebody says, "We don't have data for that." Sometimes, there are experts or locals with knowledge about the environment or human activities but this information is not yet summarized or georeferenced. So, traditionally, we employ a bunch of GIS technicians to interview people, collect this information and then produce a bunch of spatial data layers.
One problem with this approach is that there is never enough GIS technicians to meet with everyone who has good information. Think about all of the people in California who spend time in and around the ocean and who are lucky enough to see whales. That information - where people see whales in California - should be easy enough to capture. But, right now, it takes an army of people on whale watching trips to collect those data and get them into a GIS.
But what if everyone had access to a web site where they could enter that information themselves, regardless if they were on an organized trip? What if one could simply go to SeaSketch and answer a survey about what they saw?
In February, 2013, we will launch a feature that I'm calling "Space Monkey". Project administrators will be able to use a simple form builder to specify attributes and geometries they'd like to collect from members of the general public or private groups.
So, administrators will be able to set up a survey in a matter of minutes to, say, have members of the public identify where they're seeing marine mammals, birds, or specific kinds of habitat. Or, agencies may ask fishermen to identify where they are fishing and assign value to those places.
This is great news for people doing Marine Spatial Planning in regions that are data poor. With SeaSketch, they'll be able to rapidly build their geospatial database and begin planning.
It's also great news for the world of Marine Spatial Planning as a whole. As the number of projects in SeaSketch increases, so do the number of datasets that can be used across projects. The survey methods will be exposed such that people around the globe may rapidly spin up scientifically defensible surveys to generate good data that may be compared across projects.
Finally, a way to collect tons of geospatial information about our oceans and have them immediately accessible for planning purposes. Go Space Monkey, go!
Update: March 12, 2013
Space Monkey has launched! If you would like to preview how to set up and conduct a fisheries survey, you can watch this 6 minute video. And, if you like, you can participate in an example fisheries survey here.