Around the Pier: An Innovative Database to Change Conservation in the Gulf of California

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Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, marine biologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, has always had a dream of catching science up to the speed of communication.

“Nowadays, how fast is communication happening? Instantly. Why can’t we do that with science?”

With this goal in mind, Aburto-Oropeza and his team have created an online platform that will change the way researchers, students, and even the general public can access information about what lies beneath our oceans.

On Oct. 8, DataMares will re-launch, becoming one of the first interactive websites to provide open-source, scientific information concerning management and conservation of the Gulf of California, Baja California, Mexico.

The website, datamares.ucsd.edu, is a platform where researchers can upload key information and studies done within the Gulf of California and interact with other users on the database. Information that has been available, but not easily accessible, can be found with one click of the mouse, making it easier for people to use scientific research as the basis of decision making for any initiative on marine preservation and conservation.

“What we are trying to do with DataMares is solve another step between just putting the information out there and how the information is used and how fast it’s used,” said Aburto-Oropeza. “As scientists, we haven’t solved these two components, speed and public availability, and it’s part of the failure of informing and decision-making about many issues. Not all people know how to manage or use current data.”

This idea of an innovative way to spread data started almost 15 years ago. Aburto-Oropeza, a native of Mexico, saw a void in the loss of large amounts of research being conducted in the Gulf. Funds were being invested for research there, data were being generated, but with a change of directors or researchers at major institutions and organizations, that data would get lost in the shuffle. This was one of the many reasons why Aburto-Oropeza began to dream of a program like DataMares.

“Most of the time the efforts or studies are repeated,” said Aburto-Oropeza. “People say we don’t know anything about a topic, but five years ago there was an assessment on that same thing. All the information was lost because there was not any place where we could put it and share it.”

Even though at that time the Internet did not exist in a state to host a site like DataMares, Aburto-Oropeza wanted to do his part for conservation of the Gulf of California. Aburto-Oropeza became an assistant professor at Scripps in the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (CMBC), and started a program for the reefs, visiting the Gulf annually to accumulate data on the reef’s condition.

After ten years of vigorous research and data collection, the opportunity arose for DataMares to come together. Marcia Moreno, Aburto-Oropeza's partner in DataMares, finished her Ph.D. program at the University of Arizona and was eager to come to Scripps and begin working on the platform.

With the help of grants, Business Intelligence Software, and a computer programmer, DataMares became a reality.

“The first part was to build the platform so people could start loading data and sharing data,” said Aburto-Oropeza. “Then there are the research and analytics.”

DataMares offers different projects and topics and users can upload research pertaining to that specific topic. Currently, DataMares will start with two main projects, data from Aburto-Oropeza's underwater reef monotonic program, and government information from northwest Mexico fisheries collected along the coast’s fishing ports. The number of projects will increase as the amount of users and research brought to the database increases.

DataMares currently offers 300,000 pieces of data regarding the reefs and 3 million government records of the fisheries.

“What if people want to know how much we fish? It’s a very simple question, but we can’t answer it because it is very difficult to find all the data together and, if we have them, to manage and analyze them in real time,” said Aburto-Oropeza.

Not only can this change the knowledge of the general public, but also increase efficiency of researchers and inform decision-makers and authorities in a faster way. Aburto-Oropeza is trying to create a new system of sharing research that could change the academic and scientific community­ by utilizing research blogs written by different users to increase user interactions. This also allows researchers to publish exploration of data; work that it is not always reflected in a peer-reviewed paper.

“People and many other organizations and institutions think that if it’s not peer-reviewed it’s not good, because peer review is the basis of science,” said Aburto-Oropeza. “It’s something that we need to find a solution for, especially in this time when you need the facts, you need the data, and you need to see the trends faster.”

Every user of DataMares will post his or her information in a blog format, generating a copyright for this data. Aburto-Oropeza is also working on making these blogs peer-reviewed.

Along with blogs, photography will be an integral part of conveying information collected in the Gulf. An esteemed photographer of marine ecosystems himself, Aburto-Oropeza understands the importance of comprehending data visually.

“Data can link to a website or gallery of photographs that you take during the collection of data,” said Aburto-Oropeza. “In the end, it is very important to be able to show what you are trying to say.”

These few projects in the Gulf of California are just the start for DataMares. With more information being added as the site’s visibility increases, Aburto-Oropeza hopes that DataMares will extend to many more projects along the Gulf, and worldwide. They are already working on collaborations to add data concerning coral reefs in the Caribbean.

“The platform is worldwide,” said Aburto-Oropeza. “The first step is to show the platform and the second step is to spread the voice and hope other researchers use the platform to create projects and blogs.”

Aburto-Oropeza will be holding a seminar at Scripps on Oct. 6 to discuss the launch of DataMares and how users can contribute to and benefit from the website.

To explore and learn more about DataMares, please visit the website at: datamares.ucsd.edu.

- Mia Mendola is a public relations intern for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography communications office and a graduate from the Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo journalism department.

 

Related Image Gallery: DataMares

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