Explore Africa’s Ramsar sites on World Wetlands Day!

Posted on February 2nd, 2012 in Featured Conservation,General by Alta

Today is World Wetlands day, a day that is celebrated every year on the 2nd of February, coinciding with the anniversary of the adoption of the  Convention on Wetlands.  Back in 1971, 18 governments  signed the convention in Ramsar, Iran, undertaking to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance - or designated “Ramsar sites” – and to plan for the sustainable use of all the wetlands in their territories.  Today, the convention has 160 signatories and designated Ramsar sites (there are 1,994 of these) comprise almost 200,000,000 hectares of the earth’s surface.

Did you know that you can find Africa’s Ramsar sites on the MAPA Google Earth layer and African conservation map?  You can explore these sites either by navigating around  and looking for the Ramsar icons, by looking in the critical habitat folder in Google Earth, or searching for “Ramsar” on the web-based map.  Don’t forget that you can also export the map results to Google Earth – just click on “save as kml” in the search results.

Explore nearly 230 sites across the continent, from the unique coastal wetlands of Blue Bay Marine Park in Mauritius, to the vast expanses of the Okavango Delta and the DRC and Uganda’s massive transboundary Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe complex. Travel back in time and witness large-scale environmental change (Lake Chad being a case in point) around some of Africa’s biggest freshwater systems. Or simply marvel at some of the most beautiful places on this continent as you fly into river deltas, desert oases and massive swamps to learn more about these extremely valuable ecosystems.


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Working for Water’s Biocontrol sites now on the map

Posted on January 10th, 2012 in Featured Conservation,General,New Content by Alta

In our last newsletter, we told you that you could find all 321 Working for Water projects, as well as 150,000 of their specifically monitored clearing areas (NBALs) on our conservation map (NBAL sites are currently only available in the Google Earth version).  As we explained, each specific area bubble comprises information on how that area has been managed: the money spent on it, the person days of employment created by clearing it, the dominant alien species targeted and the total number of hectares cleared within it.

How are these areas cleared? Working for Water uses all sorts of methods to keep the aliens in check, including chemical controls (like herbicides), manual methods (like frilling and fires) and biological control, the targeting of aliens by their own natural enemies.

A big reason for the propensity of alien species to become dominant in their new habitats is the fact that they often outcompete indigenous vegetation for nutrients and water, a function of their general resistance to the effects of the local army of plant enemies (mostly insects, mites, and pathogens). Biocontrol is an attempt to remove this competitive advantage by allowing these invaders’ natural enemies to level the playing fields and let the natural vegetation catch up. Though biocontrol agents don’t normally kill their targets, biocontrol is a cost-effective,  sustainable and ecologically friendly method of alien control and an important tool in the fight against invasive plants.

In addition to their projects and clearing sites on MAPA’s conservation map, you can now also find all the places where Working for Water has released  biocontrol agents to target alien invasive plants.  Like the NBAL clearing sites, you can access this layer from the “footprint” tab in any of the Working for Water project bubbles.  Click on “view” and you’ll see all the biocontrol sites, denoted by insect icons (as shown above), appear.  To find out which agent was used and when they were released at an individual site, simply click on the icon.

We’re thrilled that our conservation map can be used to make the scope and activities of one of Africa’s largest conservation initiatives more visible and hope that you will enjoy this newest addition to that story.

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MAPA newsletter: Towards a more complete conservation map

As the southern hemisphere spring makes way for the South Easters, sweltering heat and thunderstorm skies of African summers, we look back on the last three months to find a more complete picture of African conservation slowly emerging on our map as it sprouts more and more points of conservation interest. Here is our latest newsletter.

Important Bird Areas are on the map!

Given limited resources,  conservation triage requires that we favour some areas over others in order to make sure we conserve the most important places on the planet, and as much biodiversity as possible.  However, determining where these critical areas are can be tricky and costly, and so, in the absence of perfect ecological knowledge,  biologists have to look to taxa that can be relied on to reflect  the overall biodiversity and ecological value of a particular area.

As a generally well-studied, often well-travelled, ubiquitous taxa found in nearly every habitat on earth, birds are considered to be particularly good at being such indicators.  Areas that are important to the conservation of birds are thus likely to be important to other biodiversity too, which is one of the reasons we are particularly pleased that all 1218 African Important Bird Areas can now be found on our conservation map.  Read more here.

MAPA in Africa Geographic

Africa Geographic has surely set the gold standard for relating African conservation stories to the public and this would be reason enough for us to be happy about being featured in this magazine.  However, our spread in their November edition is also significant in that it speaks to one way we hope our map will be useful to conservation, namely to connect environmental journalists with conservation and wildlife stories that need the public’s attention.

Africa Geographic has kindly made the article available to us, so you can read more about our (short) history and hopes for the future by viewing the PDF here.

Working for Water projects infest South Africa

In the 17 years that the Working for Water programme has been running, this massive effort has received international praise for its innovative approach to the eradication of invasive alien plants. The programme has provided more than 20,000 people from marginalised communities with jobs, and runs 321 projects countrywide, spanning more than 150,000 land clearing units (NBALs) totaling more than a million hectares.


All 321 of these projects, as well as the 150,000+ NBALs have now been added to MAPA’s conservation map.  Each clearing unit contains information on targeted species, money spent and jobs created for that specific area, information only available in GIS files housed at the Working for Water offices until now. Currently the clearing units are only downloadable by province, via the “footprint” tab on the Google Earth layer, but we look forward to bringing you smaller, more manageable NBALs for individual projects, as well as more Working for Water news, very soon.

Google Geo Tool workshop in Johannesburg

In an attempt to take our map to Africa’s conservation community, teach them how to get the most out of it, and equip them with more tools to visualise their efforts spatially, MAPA has put on a number of Google Geo Tool workshops this year.  Most recently, we found ourselves in Modderfontein, Johannesburg where, together with the Endangered Wildlife Trust, we hosted more than sixty conservationists from as far afield as Kampala and Bulawayo at two back-to-back three day workshops.  Read more about our jolly to Jozi in this blog post.

Sticking with the Endangered Wildlife Trust…

From it’s humble beginnings as a tiny nonprofit  ran from conservation legend Clive Walker’s garage in 1973, the EWT has grown into one of the most well-respected conservation organisations on the continent.  Today, the red and white cheetah pawprint is synonymous with on-the-ground-conservation action addressing some of Africa’s most pressing conservation issues.  There are more than 70 of these projects across Africa, and, as of last month, you can find them all on the searchable conservation map, or on our Google Earth layer.  We hope you enjoy exploring!

Special focus on Zimbabwe

To say that Zimbabwe has had a tough time politically is a little bit like saying that Nandos ads tend to elicit reaction. However, despite the challenges it faces, Zimbabwe’s conservation community is alive and well, and doing great work. In the coming few months, with the help of our friends at the Dambari Wildlife Trust and other Zimbabwean conservation organisations, one of our main focuses will be to get a comprehensive inventory of Zimbabwe’s conservation efforts up on the map. If you can help us with this task, please get in contact!

On that note, we sign off for this quarter. For more news and updates, follow us on Twitter, Facebook or on our brand new Google+ page!


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Important Bird Areas are on the map!

Posted on October 6th, 2011 in Featured Conservation,General,New Content by Alta

On our map, you’ll find a few different “categories” of conservation activities. There are the green hands that show protected areas, the orange blobs that highlight conservation blogs, and the blue Ps that denote conservation projects. And then there are critical habitats.

Critical habitats are areas like biodiversity hotspots, endemic bird areas, global200 ecoregions and Ramsar wetlands, and are represented on the map by the logo of the organisation that is chiefly responsible for defining, monitoring and sometimes implementing these areas.

Sometimes these areas span entire provinces, sometimes they’re the size of a small wetland.  Some of them overlap with protected areas, but often times, they’re entirely unprotected. Different critical habitats are defined by applying different measures of biodiversity richness and focus on different ecological aspects, but in identifying them, conservation scientists and organisations have a common goal: ensure that we protect as much as possible of our natural heritage by prioritising areas that are particularly species rich and valuable.

BirdLife International’s important bird areas programme is no different in this respect, and with more than 10, 000 sites identified worldwide, it plays a pivotal role in directing global conservation effort,  and not only those efforts focused on looking after feathered creatures.


A map showing all Africa's IBAs. Download the IBA-only map below or visit our conservation map to explore them in context.

Officially, an important bird area is an area that hold significant numbers of one or more threatened species, is one of a set of sites that together hold a suite of restricted range or biome-restricted species, or hosts exceptionally large numbers of migratory or congregatory species. When it comes to IBAs, size does matter! They need to big enough to matter, small enough to be able to be conserved in their entirety.

This is particularly important for sites that are not yet protected, and whose designation as an IBA help the conservationists who work in these areas petition their improved petition status. In Angola, for example, conservation scientists are currently petitioning the Angolan government to declare the Mount Moco IBA  a special reserve, an action that will help protect some of Angola’s last remaining Afromontane forest patches, and the rare and specialized birds that depend on them.

As of this week, you can see important bird areas on MAPA’s  searchable African conservation map, as well as on our Google Earth map. Find out where these areas are, what it is that makes them special and what bird species you can find there.  Each site links to the detailed important bird area fact sheet (like this one, for Mount Moco), where you can find out even more about specific sites.  If you would like to see a map of only IBAs,  you can download a Google layer of that here. We hope you enjoy exploring!

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Mining & Making Maps: MAPA winter newsletter

Spring has set in in the southern hemisphere and here at MAPA we’re suitably excited about some budding new developments.  Here is our latest newsletter:

A searchable map of conservation actions and areas in Africa

In our ongoing quest to make conservation more visible and accessible, we set ourselves the task this year to, amongst other things, make it easier to find information about protected areas and conservation projects in Africa. We also wanted to find more ways that conservation scientists and practitioners could use the MAPA project database and conservation map for their own benefit.

So it was with great excitement that we released the first version of a searchable, browser-based map to compliment our existing Google Earth layer to a small group of test users last month.  After fixing some bugs and making a few changes, we are even more excited to make a this map publically available as of today. Go to maps.mapaproject.org to start exploring!

We’ll tell you more about the map and how you can use it for your organisation or project in a separate blog post, but, in the meantime, don’t be shy to share your thoughts and suggestions.  We take these very seriously and consider each and every one!

Adding projects just got a little easier

The map of African conservation is only ever going to be as useful as the contribution from the conservation community is strong. We’ve tried to make it intuitive and easy to add a project, but we also know that a little guidance can go a long way. If you want to add your project, but you’re unsure about how to go about it, have a look at this video, and look out for more help material and tips coming your way in the coming month.

If you’ve added a few projects, and would like to have your efforts highlighted further, let us know.  We could add your organization’s efforts to featured conservation series – have a look at some of the programmes and projects highlighted so far.

Making many meaningful maps

It’s so much easier to communicate conservation challenges and efforts when one has a visual representation of the environmental context within with these take place.   Here at MAPA we’re very fond of Google’s Geo tools not only because it provides just such a visual platform, but also because it comes with really easy-to-use tools that can be used to add other layers and perspectives to that platform to guide understanding about pressing issues and activities.   Our map is one such annotation, but there are also many other ways that these tools could be utilised to make conservation more visible.

For this reason we decided to compliment what we do with the MAPA database and map with hands-on Google Geo tools workshops for conservation practitioners.   Not only do these workshops offer us an opportunity to connect and collaborate with the scientists, managers and environmentalists that look after Africa’s priceless natural heritage, but they allow us a way to help visualise conservation far beyond what we can do with our map alone. And they also happen to be quite fun.

After a fortnight of slightly experimental and (we think) successful workshops in Cape Town and Stellenbosch earlier this year, we found ourselves travelling to Arusha, Tanzania in June to run more of these trainings as a side-event to the ATBC/SCB Africa conference.   Read more about our time in Tanzania and, if you reside in the northern regions of South Africa, look out for an announcement later this month …

Google Geo tools series

In the short time that we’ve been running Google Geo tools workshops, we’ve picked up on particular topics that a lot of participants have an interest in or difficulty with, and as part of an effort to follow up with these participants, we’ve started a new (more or less) fortnightly series on our blog.

We superficially touched on using short, simple Google Earth tours in the first blog post in this series and two weeks ago wrote about using Google Earth without an internet connection in publications and presentations.  Look out for a blog post on GPS collar track data next week and more on teaching Google Earth to others in your organisation and using Fusion tables to share data sets later this quarter.  Are there any pressing topics you would like to read about? Suggest one, and we might just write about it.

More memories of our mapping missions

We’re no longer driving around Africa’s protected areas, but we do still have plenty of memories to share.  We add new albums to our Facebook page from time to time and we’ve been adding slideshows to various protected areas on our Google Earth/browser-based map, which we’ve started to highlight on our blog.

Richard Hugo getting some high-tech directions in Angola

To celebrate the end of our mapping expeditions we’ve put together a bumper slideshow of some of our volunteering adventures from across the continent.   We leave you with these memories until next quarter!


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Featured Conservation Series: Digital Biodiversity week at the Animal Demography Unit

Posted on July 28th, 2011 in Featured Conservation,General,Get Involved! by Alta

This week, we’re featuring the projects of the Animal Demography Unit in our “featured conservation” series. In South Africa, and internationally, the ADU is synonymous with citizen science. These days, citizen science projects are taking off all over the place, facilitated by a suite of new technology that makes it so much easier for amateur naturalists to participate en masse to help scientists understand the world around us. But twenty years ago, when the ADU first started collecting data using this approach, it was truly pioneering. This year, the ADU is celebrating their 20th birthday, and as part of the celebrations they are hosting two Digital Biodiversity weeks – this week being the first of those.  Prof. Les Underhill, director of the ADU, explains what digital biodiversity week is – and how you can get involved:

“We have a chain of events lined up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the ADU this year. One of our main focuses is a celebration of the participation and involvement of citizen scientists in building our digital biodiversity databases, totalling some 15 million records. The objective of our “digital biodiversity week” is to give all our citizen scientists a chance to become a community with the objective of collecting and submitting as much biodiversity data as we are able during the week. The winter biodiversity week runs from Saturday 23 July to Sunday 31 July, so it includes two weekends. There will be another in early summer, which will span the actual date of the 20th anniversary. The dates for the summer digital biodiversity week are 29 October to 6 November.

We want to try to involve as many of our existing citizen scientists as possible. We want to recruit new people to our citizen science team. We want to collect as much biodiversity data as possible: so we will try to count the total number of records entering the various databases, and try to determine the total number of different species we record. We want to encourage Team Citizen Science.

We would be delighted if our citizen scientists participated in more than one project, and especially if they participated in one they had not been involved in before. So we want our bird atlasers to participate in VIMMA, the Virtual Museum for Mammals, our bird ringers to take pictures of weavers’ nests for PHOWN, PHOtos of Weaver Nests, and our CAR counters to give bird atlasing a try, etc. We particularly want to grow awareness and participation in the growing family of virtual museums.

This is also a great opportunity to try to expand the citizen science team. The best way to do this is to invite someone new to join you atlasing, ringing, counting, virtual museuming, and to show them the project protocols – for example, exactly how to go about bird atlasing.

Ultimately, the goal of all the data collection is to have impact on biodiversity conservation. The wealth of data and information contributed by our citizen scientists, collated and curated at the ADU, and analysed by our students and staff and by many other people, has improved biodiversity conservation in southern Africa. Our 20-year celebrations honour you, the citizen scientist. Thank you for your on-going support from all of us at the ADU. Together we are making a difference!”

For more about the ADU, and how you can get involved, search their virtual museums, or view some of their many great maps, visit their website. You can also download their projects for viewing in Google Earth.

Click here to see the ADU’s Projects in Google Earth!


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African Conservation Trust: Conservation, Education, Innovation

Posted on July 22nd, 2011 in Featured Conservation,General by Alta

A couple of weeks ago, we told you about the Skeppies Small Grants programme.  In this next instalment of our featured conservation programmes and organisations, we have a look at some of the work done by the African Conservation Trust.  Here, in their words, is a little bit about who they are and the work that they’re involved in:

“From rehabilitating mountain  rivers and  reducing soil erosion to creating the first  digital archive of Drakensberg San Rock Art;  From using state-of-the art technology to create 3D maps of national  buildings and monuments to planting 20,000 indigenous trees and pioneering  indigenous  biofuel  projects  in rural communities; From  protecting indigenous butterflies & their endangered forest  habitats through community conservation programmes  to implementing  large scale water  conservation and  food security projects for thousands of children; And initiating the first  district-wide waste recycling project in the KZN Midlands, – ACT’s footprint is large – and growing.

Educating kids about the value of recycling is part of the ACT's Waste Recycling & Education Project

In all our projects we work closely with benefiting communities, providing employment and education opportunities, as well as collaborating with expert partners such as the  University of KZN, AMAFA (Heritage, KwaZuluNatal), Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, WESSA and the Wildlands Conservation Trust.

Currently, ACT is implementing a range of large-scale, multi-million Rand conservation, environmental and heritage projects, with  every project having  as a key output, the involvement of community members,  localized NGOs/CBOs and major partners.   Each project incorporates innovation, education, training and job creation as part of a focus on  sustainably alleviating critical issues. “

To learn more about these projects, ranging from conserving indigenous butterflies, to mapping rock art, to biofuel and Food security, visit the African Conservation Trusts’ website and see how you can become involved in some of the really cool initiatives they have on the go.

You can also have a look at their projects in Google Earth, by downloading the file below. If you don’t have Google Earth installed, you can download it for free here.  If you would like to see your projects displayed like this in Google Earth, upload your project to the MAPA map of African conservation here.

View ACT projects in Google Earth







Skeppies: Funding community-based business for conservation

Posted on July 5th, 2011 in Featured Conservation,General,Get Involved!,New Content by Alta

This blog post is the first in a new series that we will run to highlight some conservation efforts in Africa and some of the content on the MAPA layer. This week we focus on Skeppies, the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP) community conservation and development and small grants fund operting in the Northern Cape.  Amanda Bourne, of the Climate Action Partnership, explains more about what Skeppies is, and what it hopes to achieve:

The Skeppies fund provides accessible small scale funding and support to projects in the Succulent Karoo Biodiversity Hotspot with combined socio-economic development and conservation outcomes. The Skeppies projects are small conservation based businesses and community conservation projects and funding supports business skills development, marketing, and building resilience to climate change.

The Port Nolloth Bird Park is one of the initiatives supported in the Skeppies small grants programme.

During its pilot phase in 2007, Skeppies supported 13 projects representing a total of 22 new businesses and providing direct benefits to 109 local people. Since then, Skeppies projects have continued to generate significant numbers of new jobs, raise environmental awareness, and achieve remarkable conservation delivery including the conservation of 5230 hectares of land, the better management of a further 41 461 hectare, and the protection of 236 red-listed plant species. Projects currently supported by the fund include traditional catering businesses, hiking trails, land rehabilitation efforts, environmental education, species protection, and sustainable livestock management.

Ouma Hannah's kookskerm is another community-based business supported through the Skeppies programme.

Since 2009, CitiGroup has provided funding for a selection of Skeppies projects to engage in a business development and mentoring programme aimed centrally at building resilience to climate variability and change. The Succulent Karoo is likely to be hard hit by climate change, experiencing an increase in the frequency and intensity of droughts and floods and a projected surface temperature increase of at least 2 degrees.

Conservation South Africa and the Skeppies project development team are currently working with ten selected projects, all of which have been trained in environmental business development and climate change through a series of workshops and site visits and have been monitoring weather patterns, rainfall, and temperature using specially developed climate diaries since March 2010.

To learn more about the Skeppies projects, download the layer file below to see them in Google Earth, or visit the Climate Action Partnership’s website.

View the Skeppies Projects in Google Earth

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