SAERI staff participate in Ascension Island MPA workshop in London

Ascension Island is a tiny island in the middle of the South Atlantic, right below the equator. The land area of the island is very small with its 88 km2, but it comes with a large marine Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) of 445,390  km2 administered by the Ascension Island Government (AIG). The island is one of the UK Overseas Territories. As part of the Blue Belt initiative for the UKOTs by the UK Government, some of the islands’ waters are going to become a large no-take MPA with a fishing closure area to be designed for 50% of the area.

AIG ran a workshop on 18 April 2016 at the Foreign Commonwealth Office in London where three SAERI staff were invited: Dr Paul Brickle, Tara Pelembe and me, Dr Amélie Augé. The workshop called ‘Towards an evidence-based MPA for Ascension Island: Ensuring scientifically robust marine spatial planning’ aimed:

“1. To review current knowledge of Ascension Island’s marine environment in the context of marine spatial planning and sufficiency for marine reserve designation.
2. To draw up a prioritised and costed list of research that still needs to be completed, including both pre-designation evidence gathering and subsequent monitoring.
3. To discuss practical aspects of delivering the science plan, including logistics and legacy planning

The ultimate objective of the scientific programme will be to integrate all available fisheries and ecological data within a formal marine spatial planning framework to ensure that any future large-scale MPA is placed in the most appropriate location.” [extracts from workshop material]

The workshop provided a great venue to discuss aspects of scientific needs to design the MPA and an MSP process to assist AIG in developing best practice to define what areas should be closed and a science program. SAERI has been involved with several marine reseach projects (and will be with others in the future) that provided important data on fish and benthic habitats around the island and were used in the discussions. I also gave a short presentation about the MSP process in the Falklands, showcasing the production of the MSP GIS database and its online application: the prototype Falklands MSP webGIS. This showed an example of how AIG could produce scientific tools to facilitate the identification of areas where the no-zone take would provide the most conservation benefits. Links between the two territorites will hopefully be developed in the future to share experience and expertise for MSP research.

Dr Amélie Augé presenting the Falklands MSP process to the participants

Dr Amélie Augé presenting the Falklands MSP process to the participants

The Minister for the UKOTs joined the participants at the end of the day and Dr Judith Brown (AIG Director of Fisheries, workshop organiser and facilitator) gave a summary of the day’s discussions and conclusions to the Minister who, then, provided insights in the importance of the process for the UK Government, and thanked the participants for their inputs.

Dr Jude Brown summarising the workshop day to UK Minister for the UKOTs

Dr Jude Brown summarising the workshop day to UK Minister for the UKOTs

An evening reception at the end of the workshop provided great networking opportunities with the participants, along with a range of other invited guests from various NGOs and UK Governement representatives. My walk back to the hotel after the reception provided beautiful nighttime views of London, a change from the Stanley night lights!

London at night (photo: Amélie Augé)

London at night (photo: Amélie Augé)

Amélie’s attendance was funded as part of the Darwin Plus project ‘Marine Spatial Planning for the Falkland Islands‘.

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Remote sensing: the science of interpreting and identifying features from a distance.

By iLaria Marengo

Remote sensing is the fascinating science that studies and exploits the way the light coming from the sun (or from another source, e.g. radar) is first absorbed and then reflected back to the atmosphere by the objects on the Earth’s surface. Contrary to GIS, whose basic concepts are relatively simple and more “user friendly”, remote sensing is a sort of “niche” discipline because it involves more physics and maths, and requires skills in image interpretation. Nevertheless, remote sensing, coupled with GIS, is a powerful tool for understanding the spatial and temporal changes of the environment and deriving useful information to support environmental policies, decisions on management planning and strategies.

From the 5th to the 13th of November, the Ascension Island Government Conservation Centre (AIG CC) hosted a training course in remote sensing as part of the capacity building supported by the Darwin Initiative project entitled “Mapping Ascension Island’s Terrestrial Ecosystem”. The course was run by Dr Johanna Breyer, who works at Environment Systems in Aberystwyth, and has been contracted to support AIG CC in the delivery of the Darwin Initiative project. Environment Systems is a well-established consultancy company with years of experience in the field of remote sensing and GIS analyses. Johanna’s main task is the processing and interpretation of the high resolution World View 2 image (2 metre resolution) by applying a rule-based object analysis called image segmentation.

Data managers from the Falkland Islands and Saint Helena governments were invited to attend the course with the intention of becoming “intelligent consumers and users” of remote sensing tools. The aim of the course was to better understand the concepts behind remote sensing and apply them specifically to habitat classification. Central part of the course was to learn how the remote sensing analyst operates when carrying out the image segmentation and how the field surveyors proceed in determining and validating the classes of habitats on the ground and with the help of statistics. Time was spent in the office and on field trips to various locations in Ascension, with a very interesting off road traverse of Green Mountain from east to west.

satellite-map False colour image of Ascension (IR, red, green) to highlight the vegetated (red) and not vegetated (greyish) land. Clouds are visible in white.

signatureSpectral signature plot of water, bareground and vegetation. According to the signature the remote sensing analytical tools are able to identify and distinguish the objects on the surface.

There were many lessons learned from the hard job that Sam and Phil did in terms of habitat classification, for instance using systematic approach in deciding the sampling points and in assessing the habitat (use a standard density scale, consider the height of the species, carry out the assessment according to three altitude zones, etc). Similarly, Johanna provided the necessary basis to become aware of what a remote sensing analyst needs in order to set the rules for the image segmentation and extract the objects that will match the habitat classes. Interpreting a satellite image means being able to read and understand the spectral signatures that describe how the light is absorbed and reflected by the objects. In addition, ancillary information can help in identifying the objects, along with the knowledge of the local ecologist. At the end is a matter of aligning what a remote sensing analyst can extract from the satellite image and what the ecologist can see and map from the ground.


Field works on a lava flow which hosts the sooty terns


The spread of the invasive Mexican thorn bush on the slope of the Devil’s Riding School

Although the rule-based image segmentation is carried out using commercial software, QGIS, the open source software being used across the South Atlantic overseas territories, provides a series on interesting plugins, such as Semi Automatic Classification and Orfeo tool box, which can be used as starting tools for unsupervised/supervised classifications and for practising what was learnt at the course. Furthermore, free Landsat images offer the opportunity to perform spatial/temporal analyses in QGIS and detect land cover changes which affect the territories.

An important outcome of the course was talking and drafting best and standard practice for habitat classification with the use of remote sensing and ecological knowledge that can be applied across the South Atlantic UKOTs. In fact, the goal is to transfer what has been achieved in Ascension to projects that will be run in Saint Helena and the Falklands in the future.

Environment_Systems Darwin logoASI_logo




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Overseas Territories get together and enthusiastic about open source GIS!

By iLaria Marengo

Hello from the Falklands! I arrived just two weeks ago after a few interesting days spent in Gibraltar and Ascension Island where I met with other enthusiastic GIS specialists working for the other Overseas Territories (OTs).
Gibraltar hosted the first OTs meeting entirely dedicated to GIS on the 8th and the 9th of September, its application and its use as a decision support tool for environmental and planning studies. There were presentations on habitat mapping through the use and analysis of satellite images in Anguilla; on using GIS as a decision support systems for coastal environment, protected habitats, waste management and contingency planning in the Cayman Islands, Jersey and Gibraltar; and examples of public participatory GIS for marine spatial planning n the Shetland Islands. The event turned out to be a great opportunity for bringing together “GIS people” from the different OTs, from the Caribbean islands, to the South Atlantic region and the European OTs. The great interaction and rapport we were able to build through exchanging knowledge and experience revealed that, despite the different backgrounds, the GIS issues encountered by everyone were in fact fairly similar. We could all learn from everybody else’s work.
The use of open source GIS, and in particular QGIS, was under the spot light. Paolo Cavallini and Luigi Pirelli were demonstrating the functionalities of the latest release of QGIS (2.0 Dufour) and the possibility of developing it by writing Python scripts and sharing them with the broad community of QGIS users. We were all thrilled and we came back to our respective islands (territories) perhaps with more enthusiasm than that with which we arrived.
The good news for me did not end in Gibraltar. Invigorated by that experience I flew to Ascension to meet up with the Conservation Centre “gang”. Sam, Nicola, Jo and Natasha were extremely kind and hospitable and we were immediately tuned in to the same “GIS frequency”. It is amazing to see how much goes on in such a small and remote island such Ascension. The team is involved in many projects, for example research is carried out on green turtles, seabird monitoring, and cataloguing of endemic plants and heritage buildings/sites. We worked on how to facilitate the use of some of the databases already set up and available, and how to make them more user-friendly. The stop over in Ascension was educational and beneficial as we will be working more and more closely with each other for the realisation of the GIS data centre for the South Atlantic OTs.Land Crab Map

I carried on my trip to the Falklands thinking positively and looking forward to the start of the project with SAERI. After the first two weeks we have a draft design of the architecture of the GIS data centre and information system. It involves the use of a metadata catalogue, QGIS for data editing, analysis and mapping, a spatial database and a web GIS service…all open source. This is in its infancy so please watch out for the next blog as we hope to come back with big news! Last but not least mention…it is great to finally meet the SAERI gang and be down here in the gorgeous Falkland Islands!

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