Case Study

Revamped Data Platform Helps Ocean Protection Council Promote Responsible Use of Natural Resources

Robust, accessible platform uses Drupal and CKAN for easy information sharing and increased user engagement

Protecting California’s Natural Resources

The Ocean Protection Council (OPC), a group within the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), is responsible for ensuring that California maintains healthy, resilient and productive ocean and coastal ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations. Specifically, OPC plays a critical coordinating role in California’s MPA Monitoring Program, which includes a network of 124 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) created to conserve ocean conditions, marine wildlife and natural diversity of ecosystems along the coast.

In 2007, OPC funded an effort to begin collecting data from MPAs to establish a baseline of ocean conditions such as salinity and temperature, as well as species abundance and size. To encourage data accessibility and usability, OPC funded the majority of the development of an online platform named OceanSpaces, a web-based community space focused on the health of California’s oceans.

One of the key objectives for OceanSpaces was to share MPA data with researchers, scientists, policy makers and the public. However, due to some difficulties with data accessibility and search functionality, users often bypassed OceanSpaces by going directly to researchers for their data.

Our Big Data Solution

To transform OceanSpaces into a robust, interactive platform, OPC turned to World Wide Technology (WWT). Together, we designed a data management solution that improves the usability of marine data while providing a platform for growth. We worked in coordination with the California Natural Resources Agency Deputy Secretary of Information Technology, which provided the big data infrastructure capable of meeting the requirements of OPC for its data analysis.

The first step was to understand the gaps in the current program processes. Our big data consultants gathered technical documentation and interviewed a wide range of users to understand how their needs compared with the capability of the OceanSpaces processes in place. Interviews quickly uncovered a need for better search capability and data visualizations.

Next, we looked at what tools could be used to meet the needs of the community. WWT found that the platform underlying OceanSpaces, Drupal, had the required social functionality. It was determined that this social functionality could be preserved while migrating data management, search and visualization capabilities to another platform.

We suggested using CKAN, an open source content management system designed for managing, publishing and searching data. With CKAN, users can easily navigate data catalogs and find datasets in graphical, tabular and geospatial formats. Best of all, a CKAN platform was already being deployed by CNRA.

At the end of our assessment, OPC received a mid-level design, budget and deployment roadmap for an improved data platform that provides users with one operational interface for finding data.

From Data to Decisions

Secure and organized data allows OPC and key partners to create the baseline they need and promote ongoing responsible use of California natural resources. The data collected is crucial in informing adaptive management of the California MPA Network, which is one of the largest in the world. The data can be further used to inform other public policy and environmental initiatives regarding marine pollution, sustainable fisheries, climate change and industrial ocean uses.

Enhanced usability of the data promotes collaboration among groups within the California Natural Resources Agency. Several departments within the CNRA that monitor other natural resources in the state have already expressed interest in using the same data platform as OPC to improve cross-agency efforts. By using big data capabilities, the state can better understand how communities interact with the natural environment.

Combining technological expertise with consulting methodology, we provided OPC with a usable, scalable data platform that ensures open-access, durability and trust of public data.