Big Data Tools Help Answer Big Conservation Questions

Collaborative, data sharing projects such as GlobalArchive, provide a cost-efficient tool that enables researchers and managers to query, curate, and analyse data rapidly.
Dr Nestor Bosch Guerra on a boat out in the sea with gear

Banner image: Nestor Bosch Guerra from the School of Animal Biology at the University of Western Australia uses ecocloud to run complex big data analyses in seconds.

Collaborative, data sharing projects such as GlobalArchive, provide a cost-efficient tool that enables researchers and managers to query, curate, and analyse data rapidly. This tool, coupled with free programming softwares such as R, and virtual laboratories with high computational power such as ‘EcoScience Research Data Cloud and Data enhanced Virtual Laboratory’ (aka ecocloud), can improve researchers’ understanding of large-scale national biodiversity patterns. Researchers can also better understand the distribution patterns of particular species, especially those with high economic value or conservation interest that can inform managers and policy makers.

GlobalArchive is an online repository of ecological data and science communication that is available in ecocloudecocloud is described as a complete online environment that works the way ecologists do, providing its users with an easy-to-access online platform to large volumes of curated data and tools using the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) Nectar Research Cloud and virtual laboratory technology. Both GlobalArchive and ecocloud are collaborative efforts supported by the ARDC.

Dr Nestor Bosch Guerra, from the School of Animal Biology at the University of Western Australia, is running a project looking at national-scale trends in fish diversity, abundance and length using data from the GlobalArchive; and reflects on the challenges he faced as a PhD student.

“Access to large-scale fish data through the ARDC-funded GlobalArchive project, has provided me with the tools to advance my career not only from a scientific perspective but also to provide evidence-based scientific knowledge that can help to improve the management of diverse marine ecosystems found across Australia and inform policy,” Dr Guerra said.

Dr Guerra’s analyses and models of the GlobalArchive fish data are now expected to support State of the Environment reporting and add value to the millions of dollars that have already been invested in the dataset.

“One of the big advantages of GlobalArchive is that it provides complementary ecological data to traditional methods used in national assessments on the state of the marine environment.

“The use of baited remote underwater video technology, enables us to obtain robust information on areas of the reef that are inaccessible to divers (usually >30 metres in depth), and to capture species with high fisheries value that are often missed or underestimated in visual censuses due to their diver avoidance behaviour.

“It also overcomes some of the limitations of fisheries-dependent methods, and provides a powerful tool to non-destructively sampled areas of high conservation interest such as marine reserves,” says Dr Guerra.

With this information on hand, researchers can track both spatially and temporally several ecological indicators that can inform progress towards international commitments on sustainability of fisheries and biodiversity conservation.

What’s Next for GlobalArchive?

So what’s next for GlobalArchive? The project will continue to grow and incorporate new information from relatively unsampled geographic areas such as the Great Australian Bight and the Gulf of Carpentaria, as well as deeper reef areas with potential conservation interest. The project hopes to foster collaboration with other academic institutions and Government agencies around the world to expand the use of this data to other nations to help tackle emerging conservation problems at a global scale.

Find out more information about the collaboration between the ARDC and ecocloud and the Ecocommons Australia — a new project to enhance computing and analytical capability for earth.