On Thursday, I attended a symposium on “Computational Challenges for the Environmental Sciences”. It didn’t really deliver what I was hoping (expectations, they get me every time). However, I did net a bunch of unexpected goodies. My favourite was gaining an awareness of the Atlas of Living Australia.
The atlas is essentially an aggregation of environmental data from across Australia into a single portal. What they’ve done that I love, is rig things so they offer functionality that the average joe on the street might find enticing. From where I’m sitting, they succeeded. This website is useful for science boffins, true, but anyone with just a passing interest in “what is that critter?” can pretty quickly scratch their inquisitiveness itch.
The absolute stand-out feature for me is being able to identify species located near a user-specified location. For instance, if I want to know which species have been identified within 5 kilometres of Garden City (a landmark location on the southside of Brisbane), there’s an intuitive, user-friendly way to find out. Type in the address, specify the radius of a circle surrounding the address, and press the magic “go” button to find all species listed in that circle’s area.
There’s a fantastic feature where I can go one step further, and ask for a a species field guide to be generated for me as a PDF file (the example linked here is a list of species in a 1 kilometer radius from my home).
I can see from the list that it’s currently pretty sparsely populated in my immediate area. Increasing the radius a little and I can see that there’s a bird junkie to the north-west of me who’s been going crazy with bird-spotting entries.
I’m motivated to get the camera out and add a few more entries for species I see regularly around home, but aren’t yet part of the data set for the area. I have a tentative plan here to take a colour printout of my own very localised field guide for family education. I’m also keen to see if I can entice the kids into helping me contribute more species data to the atlas. At the very least, I can now grab a handy list when my daugther invariably asks a favoured question of “what kind of animal is that?”
After all, we only protect the things we love and the best way I know to protect nature is to share my love of nature with my children. I encourage Australians to take advantage of this resource, and non-Australians to bother whoever you have to in order to get something similar for your area.