Maps could be many issues: vibrant, or uninteresting; complicated, or quite simple; useful, or very tough to learn. In addition they have the potential to assist the general public’s data of environmental and social points, and to put out paths in direction of behavioural modifications and conservation consciousness.
This potential is already being explored in some components of the world. For instance, the FishWerks App makes use of maps to focus on the limitations to fish motion within the Nice Lakes area of the USA. Based mostly on the continuing work with a map of southern African rivers that went viral two years in the past, the identical potential exists to drive conservation consciousness and motion within the southern African area.
What we discovered when our map of southern Africa’s rivers went viral
Two years on, individuals are nonetheless partaking with that map by way of the survey that goes with it. There have been between three and 147 downloads a month throughout 2019 and 2020. As a water researcher, I wished to know how folks’s curiosity within the map could be was motion round conservation and a greater consciousness of South Africa’s many water points. These points embody water air pollution, which impacts the standard of river water, microplastics and their impacts on crops and animals, and invasive alien crops and animals that negatively have an effect on water availability and biodiversity.
Within the earlier article, three themes emerged from the preliminary responses to the map. These themes parallel the traits of in style web memes. First, the info within the map was genuinely helpful to folks. Second, it was aesthetically pleasing. Third, it folks.
Now, primarily based on learnings from the two,593 responses to the survey that accompanies the map, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of public curiosity and the way public pushed science – particularly across the use and content material of maps – may bridge the hole between policymakers, residents and scientists.
Within the survey, over 82% of individuals (from 66 international locations throughout six continents) said that they had been downloading the map for private use. This was adopted by “academic functions” (27%). Solely 8% of respondents wished it for skilled use.
Overwhelmingly, respondents discovered the map aesthetically pleasing. They had been struck by the colorful illustration of simply how expansive southern Africa’s river techniques are, in addition to what number of there are. Individuals felt that the visuals helped them higher perceive geographic relationships – how rivers and catchments match collectively.
One respondent mentioned:
It has made me realise how the river system is so huge and interconnected. All earlier maps have proven one blue line saying “that is the Orange river” after which saying “it’s a huge, vital river” however solely this map exhibits why that’s the case … It made me consider the rivers as a system, relatively than simply traces on maps, that regarded like a dwelling, respiration construction like coral.
This larger understanding of interconnectedness might affect folks to turn into extra engaged with conserving river techniques.
Bringing the general public on board
One other vital studying that comes out of the survey is the potential for publicly pushed mapping. Science communications knowledgeable Dr Marina Joubert has highlighted the communications hole between scientists and public, and the brand new South African coverage that expects scientists to interact with the general public. Publicly pushed mapping might enable simpler or larger public engagement with scientific findings as scientists can achieve insights into public pursuits.
A number of the respondents queried whether or not further information – river names, cities, aquifers, mountain ranges – might be plotted on the map, which might enhance their understanding.
Respondents instructed, amongst different issues, that the map might visually signify the diploma of contamination and sustainable movement for every river, or that the map might be color coded from “most pressured” to “least pressured”.
A couple of respondent indicated an curiosity in a map of river permanence. One wrote: “I used to be shocked to see how a lot of South Africa is roofed by rivers, it will be attention-grabbing so as to add a layer to point perennial and non perennial rivers”. One other respondent mentioned:
The opposite maps I’ve seen didn’t present as a lot element and left the impression that there wasn’t as a lot drainage and but I do know from climbing that there’s often a perennial river all over the place you go. So this map matches my expertise of Cape City as a substitute of my fundamental highschool geography which didn’t match my private expertise.
Following these ideas, I’ve created a map of perennial rivers in South Africa utilizing information out there from the Division of Water and Sanitation. Though the perenniality map is an estimation derived from the chance of groundwater contributing to river flows, it provides helpful data for residents who’re excited by understanding river ecology as a substitute of simply seeing it as a line on a map. A river’s perenniality signifies the pure state of a river and its seasonaility, which could be disrupted by human growth, together with small dams and culverts.
Creating such maps, and others primarily based on the general public’s enter, is feasible. Lots of the datasets that may kind the idea of the maps instructed by the survey respondents exist already, for the reason that South African authorities funds analysis which generates open supply information, such because the latest Nationwide Biodiversity Evaluation.
The ability of maps
With the ability of digital know-how, maps with a 3D impact can additional promote larger understanding of land and water connections. I not too long ago took a category in digital storytelling and created a video that exhibits a neighborhood river’s journey to the ocean utilizing a flyover created with a few clicks in Google Earth.
My hope is that the story of the rivers map, mixed with digital know-how and storytelling, can encourage others to make use of their potential to boost the general public’s environmental consciousness and to create bridges between authorities businesses, residents, and scientists.