In this case study

Challenge: 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, the 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, the OPC funded an effort to begin collecting data from MPAs to establish a baseline of oceanic conditions such as salinity and temperature, as well as species abundance and size. To encourage data accessibility and usability, the 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, instead going directly to researchers for data.

Big Data Solution

The OPC turned to WWT to transform OceanSpaces into a robust, interactive platform. Together, we designed a data management solution that improves the usability of marine data while providing a platform for growth. We worked closely with the California Natural Resources Agency Deputy Secretary of Information Technology, which provided the big data infrastructure capable of meeting the requirements of the 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 existing OceanSpaces processes. Interviews quickly uncovered the 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 the CNRA.

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

Outcomes: From Data to Decisions

Secure and organized data has allowed the OPC and key partners to create the baseline they need to better promote the ongoing responsible use of California natural resources. The data collected is crucial in informing adaptive management of the California MPA Network, 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 CNRA. Several departments within the CNRA that monitor other natural resources in the state have already expressed interest in using the same data platform as the OPC to improve cross-agency efforts. By using big data capabilities, the state can better understand how communities interact with the natural environment.

By combining technological expertise with a proven consulting methodology, WWT provided the OPC with a usable, scalable data platform that ensures open-access, durability and trust of public data.