#MapMonday: Intro to GIS

Our GIS Intern, Olivia, explains what GIS is, and why it’s important to the work we do at Defenders. You can check out some of our maps here.

Click to view video transcript

Hello everyone and welcome to another MapMonday!

For this week’s MapMonday we are going to get a little more technical and talk about what GIS is and why it is so important for the work we do at Defenders of Wildlife.

Scientists have been using maps for thousands of years. They are powerful tools and sources of information that have opened many doors in science and technology.

Today, the maps you see in GIS are interactive, influential, and dynamic. Without realizing it, GIS is happening all around us and has affected us in some way.

Let’s take a step back and talk about what exactly GIS is.

GIS stands for Geographic Information System. The key word here is “geographic”, meaning the data being examined is spatially related and, in some way, referenced to locations on earth.

Through GIS data can be created, stored, managed, manipulated, and analyzed. This technological field allows us to visualize large and sometimes complicated datasets that leads to improved decision making. In simpler terms GIS is the creation of maps to evaluate geographic information.

GIS is a technology field that is constantly evolving, so there are always new things to learn no matter how much experience you have with GIS.

GIS is a powerful tool that influences millions of decisions around the world. Most of you have been using GIS your whole life without knowing it. Any time you open up Google Maps or put in your current location to order food off grubhub you are indeed using GIS. GIS can also be used to make decisions about where to build a grocery store in your town, whether or not a highway can be constructed behind your home, and what the quickest way for UPS to deliver that package you just ordered.

GIS impacts life all around us.

Here at Defenders of Wildlife, GIS plays an important part of the work we do. The GIS team consists of Dr. Lindsay Rosa, our lead GIS Conservation Scientist, Mae Lacey, and myself, the current GIS intern.

Even though the GIS team is small, our work has big implications for wildlife conservation. As a team we handle all of Defender’s mapping needs including work with coalition groups and even work with federal agencies.

We collect, manage, and analyze different spatial datasets to create static or interactive maps. In collaboration with other geospatial experts and data and conservation scientists, we create maps that help improve decision making for the Defenders team as a whole. Since technology is a constantly evolving field, we are always trying to be creative in our science.

More recently, the GIS team has started increasing our use of StoryMaps. This tool allows you to add a narrative and multimedia content to an interactive map. StoryMaps are created for various reasons, but here at Defenders we create StoryMaps to provide information on the projects we are working on, spread awareness for threatened and endangered species, and hopefully motivate people to become a part of the solution.

These StoryMap creations have been a great way to reach out to the public and make known the work Defenders is doing, for they are very easy to understand, engage and inspire the audience. We give wildlife the voice they need when they can’t speak up for themselves.

One of the things I was tasked with this summer as the GIS intern, was creating the Beluga StoryMap. The Beluga StoryMap talks about the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale species that is endangered out in Alaska. This StoryMap should be finished sometime in September so keep your eyes out for that MapMonday.

Thanks everyone for watching and I hope you learned a little more about what GIS is and why it is important for the work we do at Defenders of Wildlife!

Olivia Lewis
2020 Summer Intern in GIS