‘GIS’ or ‘Geographic Information System’ is a tool which combines computer hardware and software to allow mapping, analysis and management of any information which can be located or linked to a place on a map. As the objectives of the Loughs Agency are the conservation, protection and development of inland fisheries, aquaculture and marine tourism across the Foyle and Carlingford catchments GIS is a particularly useful tool in managing the large amounts of information that is gathered daily.
Information ranging from salmon monitoring & protection to community education, oyster population surveys, pollution investigations, tourism development and many more in an area over 4,500 km2 in size are included in the GIS to help answer questions which are important to ensuring that the environment is healthy and protected.
Questions such as how does the Agency know where these activities are happening? What results are produced from these activities? How do the results of these activities contribute to the Agency’s overall goals?
GIS is used by many government and non-government agencies and in numerous industries including utilities, urban planning, agriculture and, of course, natural resource management. The Agency’s GIS is made up of several key components: 1) the hardware: a computer which stores data and runs specialist GIS software, 2) GIS software which allows staff to create, modify, analyse and present data, and 3) a collection of data capture (hand-held GPS units), storage and presentation equipment which allows staff to add information to the GIS and also to present the results.
The most important thing a GIS does is to link data to a particular location on Earth: it shows us WHERE something is. For instance, it helps Agency staff document where pollution events happen, where salmon habitat can be improved, where oysters densities are changing, and so on. By knowing where something is happening, staff can begin to piece together HOW and, more importantly, start to understand WHY it is happening. The ability of a GIS to combine and analyse several datasets at the same time makes it possible for Agency staff to make informed management decisions using the best available datasets for a particular area. For example in any particular stretch of river staff can view numbers of juvenile salmon, assess the quality of habitat, check water quality, examine pressures from planning or pollution etc. The image below shows how a GIS can “overlay,” or combine, different datasets for a particular area to assist decision-makers in managing the catchments.
Developing, protecting and conserving the resources of the Foyle and Carlingford catchment areas are complicated tasks. While managing these expansive areas, Agency staff generate large amounts of data, which a GIS helps to organise and analyse. Consequently, the Agency’s GIS is an important tool for properly managing our local natural resources. After all, knowing where things happen is an important first step in understanding how and why they happen.