Integrating remote sensing imagery analysis with GIS: new perspectives for the Territories – South Atlantic region.

By iLaria Marengo

 In the South Atlantic region the use of remotely sensed images in environmental analyses should be considered more often. A couple of research projects are going to begin soon: one aims at using Landsat imageries to identify giant kelp in the sea surrounding the Falkland Islands. The project will be carried out with the support and expertise provided by the Welsh consultancy group Environment Systems. Freely available Landsat imageries and e-cognition (proprietary software) will be employed for the analyses and as a part of the project training will be provided to SAERI staff in order to acquire more confidence and skill in remotely sensed image processing and analysis.

The second project, led by the marine team in Saint Helena, includes the use of side scan sonar (starfish device) techniques to gather imageries, using acoustics, of the seabed in inshore waters around the island. The images, once analysed, should provide sound baseline information to derive, along with other data layers, n habitat map for inshore waters. An intense two day course was provided in the UK by CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science), which delivers internationally renowned science (they have many years of multibeam and side scan sonar data collection, processing and analysis experience) and collaborative relationships with UK government, EU, NGOs, research centres and industry. Support from CEFAS will continue during the project and the process of mapping marine habitats is going to be carried out as well in Ascension and in the Falkland Islands, where a new fisheries department (Ascension) has been recently created and a new project on inshore fisheries (Falkland Islands), which is led by Dr Debs Davidson (SAERI), has just started.

The use of remotely sensed images has got two important advantages: spatially it is possible to cover large areas that with a manual survey would take long time. Temporally it is possible to have measurements of the same area at different and planned periods. Hence it is possible to detect which dynamics interest/affect a geographical area by looking at the spatial, spectral, radiometric and temporal properties of the sensor.

The integration of Remote Sensing to GIS would be advantageous for researchers working for the local communities of the South Atlantic region, however it throws up a few challenges. For example, the cost of very high resolution data (resolution <= 5 metres) and the partial coverage of free high resolution (between 5 and 30 metres) satellite images, such as Landsat, for the small and remote islands of this area of the Atlantic Ocean; the management of the amount and size of data collected; the complexity of the pre-processing phase of the overall image analysis process, which requires the use of proprietary software and high level of expertise.

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This last point is going to be addressed progressively. The goal is to build local expertise and skills in the use of Remote Sensing techniques, however initial support from external experts, such as Environment Systems and CEFAS, is essential to deliver the projects and to gain how to practically analyse remotely sensed data.

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Intense and happy GIS days in St Helena!

By iLaria Marengo

It took quite a long journey to reach St Helena (8 hours on the plane from Brize Norton, 11 days in Ascension, and 2 days on the RMS St Helena) but it was an extremely fruitful and worthwhile trip.

The purpose of travelling to the island was to meet the community of data “collectors and users” and introduce to them the concepts of open source GIS, metadata recording and data management. In brief, the goal was to officially start the Information Management Centre (IMS)/GIS data centre and provide the islanders training/knowledge and understanding of the open source software QGIS. In addition, time was dedicated to support Dr Judith Brown and her marine team in preparing the data for a series of analyses that will contribute to the mapping of St Helena’s marine biodiversity. The use and application of GIS as an analytical and mapping tool will be very beneficial for the Darwin project that Judith is leading and will help in delivering a marine management plan for the island.

As in the Falklands and Ascension island, in St Helena there is also a major need to standardise the procedures of data collection, storage and management. The absence of an integrated and harmonised data system translates in duplication and dispersion of data across the government departments; difficulties in sharing and accessing the data within the departments and between departments and the local National Trust; and, in the worst cases, loss of data.

On the contrary, the benefit from having the IMS/GIS data centre is that people will share a data system with the same structure across the islands, will be able to find relevant information easily and quickly thanks to an online metadata, will be familiar with the way data are stored and gathered, and will be in the position of carrying out studies and research across the islands of the south Atlantic region as the data, thanks to the standards and similar procedures, will be highly comparable.

The IMS/GIS data centre consider training and advising people on GIS concepts, data standards and procedures first priority. In St Helena 20 people from the government and the National Trust attended the QGIS course. Everybody worked on their own data: the complete beginners experimented with GIS applications and unveiled its functionalities as an analytical and mapping tool, while the intermediates challenged the open source software to test that it is as effective as a proprietary one. The result was greater than the expectations: in two weeks not only people started using QGIS and felt the tool less difficult than thought but, above all, understood that successful data collection starts from as soon as the project outcomes are defined and it is based on a careful design and thinking of the structure of the attribute table, the variables that will be measured and the tools to be used to quantify the variables.

In addition, more than 30 metadata were provided for correspondent datasets. This is the first big step that will cast light on the accessibility, availability, distribution and quality of the data across the island. All in all, the weeks in St Helena were fruitful in terms of work carried out, collaboration, knowledge and skills acquired by everybody.

After two intense and happy weeks of GIS, everybody could see some results either in forms of maps, or in terms of understanding basic data management principles, or by looking at the number of records of metadata compiled.

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The challenge now is to carry on, don’t loose the enthusiasm and keep in touch remotely and through the GIS Officer who is due to arrive in Jamestown in May. The passion, the effort and collaboration that people showed in St Helena are the right “fuel” for running and making the project a success!

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Tracking top predators in the South Atlantic

By Dr Alastair Baylis who was in the Falklands in February and March 2013

Marine mammals (e.g. cetaceans and pinnipeds) are top predators in the world’s oceans. They can have important effects on ecosystem structure and function, and serve as indicators of ecosystem health. Several marine mammal species breed at the Falkland Islands. However of particular concern is a precipitous decline in the number of southern sea lions (Otaria flavescens) – now the focus of multi-year study. In the 1930’s the Falkland Islands was home to the largest population of southern sea lions in the world (pup production estimated to be 80,000). Between the 1930’s and 1990’s the population declined by 97% (reasons unknown). Today pup production is estimated to be less than 2,800. Despite this dramatic decline and failure to recover, surprisingly little is known about the foraging ecology of sea lions at the Falkland Islands – information that is vital in order to identify any potential impediments to population recovery.

Eager to redress knowledge gaps, a team of pinniped biologists lead by Dr Iain Staniland (BAS) and Dr Alastair Baylis (Deakin University, previously FC) successfully deployed 26 satellite tags on southern sea lions in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, working in collaboration with SAERI and FC, the team returned to the Falklands in order to deploy GPS units and dive loggers. These sophisticated devices collect fine scale location data and dive data – needed to better assess important at-sea areas for sea lions. With the help of Rachael Orben (UCSC Costa Lab) and Dr John Arnould (Deakin University) GPS units were successfully deployed and recovered (a first for Falklands sea lions), while valuable diet and genetic samples were also collected. In total 37 sea lions have now been tracked (adults and juveniles), and some initial results are presented in the figure below. The ambitious team is already planning the next season and hope to profile the foraging location and diet of sea lions from the largest breeding colonies on both East and West Falklands.
The research was generously supported by the Shackleton Scholarship Fund and a JNCC small projects grant, received through the Falkland Islands Government Environmental Planning Department. We extend our sincere thanks to SAERI, FIG EPD and FC for their invaluable support.

Photographed by Rachael Orben

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Melanie Mackenzie

I’m back in the Falklands for the second summer in a row, this time thanks to a Shackleton Scholarship Fund, and with the support of SAERI, SMSG and Museum Victoria – my usual workplace in Melbourne, Australia.

I was lucky enough to be delayed here for a few days last January on my way down to Antarctica on the James Clark Ross. As you can imagine, coming from a country known for its beaches and sunshine I was full of excitement at the prospect of the ‘unknown’ Antarctic which lay ahead… and not just at the thought of wearing the attractively padded BAS orange jumpsuit!

While waiting to join the scientific team for a benthic survey of the Weddell Sea, I was very fortunate to drop by FiPass where I met Paul Brickle of SAERI and Paul Brewin of SMSG/Fisheries, and was introduced to an active research lab and very interesting marine invertebrate collection.

And my particular interest you may ask? Well the enigmatic sea cucumber of course! Relatives of sea urchins and starfish, holothuroids are not only amazing little detritus-sifters, but some even brood-protect their young in pouches – and how can any self-respecting kangaroo-loving Aussie resist that?

I’m here for a month dividing my time between the lab at the Fisheries department (busily identifying sea cumbers) and office space at SAERI (where I’m assisting with collection management processes and an application for CITES institutional registration).

My ‘day job’ back in Australia is as a Marine Invertebrate Collection Manager in a natural history museum. While museum visitors marvel at our exhibition displays, many have no idea that behind the scenes is an extremely active research facility full of millions of specimens being studied by everyone from taxonomists and geneticists to students, engineers and artists. And while I spend my usual workday packing specimens, developing field guides, catching critters and generally looking after a jar-filled library of spineless specimens, I spend weekends and any spare time indulging in sea cucumber research.

Working with a small team of taxonomists lead by holothuroid-guru Mark O’Loughlin, we’ve identified thousands of sea cucumbers (including many new species) collected by teams from many different countries. We’ve also had the privilege of examining historic material from some early British-lead expeditions, including the Discovery material from 1925. And by the most pleasant of coincidences those very expedition reports are at long last being digitized thanks to Darwin sponsorship, by none other than the hard-working Dr Deborah (Debs) Davidson at SAERI. Enticed back to Stanley by the thought of working with sea cucumbers from the recent SAERI/SMSG shallow marine survey of South Georgia (the first comprehensive survey since the Discovery visit), I was also very excited to see that SAERI hold material from the Falklands and Ascension Islands…fingers-crossed I get a chance to see it all!

So I may only be here for a month, which is definitely not long enough to spend in the Falklands, but I plan to do as much as possible in the time I have, and look forward to seeing what the local waters may bring me.

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