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Emily Larkin's M.S. Degree, 2004

Geographic Information Systems for Coral Reef Conservation, Capacity Building, and Public Education in American Samoa

Master of Science, Geography, Oregon State University, Fall 2004
Emphasis in Geographic Information Science, Minor in Resource Geography

Graduate committee: D. Wright, M. Santelmann, A.J. Kimerling, T. Deiterich

Emily Larkin
Dept of Geosciences, Oregon State Univ
Corvallis, OR 97331-5506

Coral reefs around the world face numerous threats, both natural and anthropogenic, including pollution, natural disasters, invasive species, habitat destruction, and destructive methods of fishing. Given enough time, coral can recover from natural disasters, but anthropogenic threats decrease corals' ability to recover from things such as hurricanes. It is difficult to protect coral reefs when they are not fully mapped or understood and without public support for their protection. This project is an attempt to both understand more about two small coral reefs around the island of Tutuila, American Samoa and to facilitate public outreach and education about coral reefs in American Samoa. New benthic zone and structure classifications have been produced for Fagaitua Bay and for National Park of American Samoa, which extend earlier satellite-based classifications into much deeper water. Although it is not possible, at this time, to tie benthic classifications to species or community types, it is hoped that further ground-truth data may establish some connection between the two.

Government officials and resource managers increasingly use GIS to determine the locations of critical habitats in need of protection. There is growing concern, however, that the general public is excluded from the decision-making process due to the lack of publicly-accessible data. The American Samoa Benthic Terrain Viewer (ASBTV) is a web-based GIS that allows users to display data and conduct simple GIS analyses without the need to purchase stand-alone GIS software. All of the benthic classifications produced for American Samoa as part of this and other projects are available on the ASBTV. ASBTV also includes the world's first web-based GIS in the Samoan language. Educational modules developed for American Samoa Community College are also part of the effort to make the public more aware of current research on the coral reefs in American Samoa. It is also hoped that they will aid in GIS capacity building efforts by providing students with the opportunity to learn GIS using local data. The educational modules include a capstone final project where students must tie in the technical skills they have learned in the class to a real-world problem: a hypothetical marine protected area proposal. None of these efforts towards public education, GIS capacity building, and reef protection can stand alone. Without traditional outreach, Internet outreach is often unsuccessful. Without public support, reef protection and GIS education will not often be successful.

Download Thesis (31 Mb PDF file)
Also available in the ScholarsArchive@OSU permanent collection

Thesis Defense Presentation

ESRI User Conference Paper

Links to American Samoa GIS Modules and American Samoa Benthic Terrain Viewer

Sea Grant Press Release (2/17/05)

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