MAPA 101: MAPA Conservation Map Basics

Posted on February 10th, 2012 in General,Get Involved! by Alta

Update 27/03/2012: We’ve changed this post to reflect our new home for adding projects:

One question we get asked more often than we would like is how one can see the MAPA layer in Google Earth.  If our map is going to be useful to you, it’s pretty important that you know how to see it,  so we thought that it was high time we explained how to do that:

The Short answer: what to do to see the MAPA layer in Google Earth (or in your browser):

Step 1: Make sure that you have Google Earth downloaded & installed (version 6.0 or higher).

Step 2: Click this link to download the MAPA layer as a KML file on your machine.  There are a few other places you could have downloaded it from: Our website (top right hand corner), The Google Earth GalleryThe Google Earth Outreach Showcase or from our browser-based map (top right hand corner).

Step 3: Double click on that file to launch it in Google Earth. It will appear in your “Temporary Places” folder in your “Places” panel and you will see the icons appear on your screen, as shown in the screenshot below.

Remember that you can also see a searchable version of the MAPA conservation map in your browser. Visit to get started.

The Longer Explanation:

One of the main reasons Google Earth can be used to tell such powerful spatial stories is that anyone can add information, be it a simple point or a more complex imported GIS dataset, to the “default” view they get when  they download and install Google Earth.

The fact that anyone can annotate Google Earth and then share that information means that anyone with an important message and informed perspective can communicate their understanding and information, and guide others interested  and affected through this contextualised view of the world.

Whereas anyone can create, save and share content in Google Earth, some organisations and individuals  have leveraged this technology in more advanced ways to create powerful visualisations and informative maps (like ours, we hope!), that have been released to and shared with the world.

However, with few exceptions, these layers are not available in Google Earth by default. Instead, the most common way these maps are shared is by making them available as KML or KMZ files that can be downloaded from organisations’ websites and repositories like the Google Earth Gallery and the Google Earth Outreach Showcase.

There’s nothing really mystical about KML or KMZ files — without getting into the detail, they’re the formats of files that are saved out of, or created for opening in Google Earth. In the simplest sense, our map is just one such KML file that you can download and add to your “Places”, on top of the “default” view of Google Earth.

If you’re still unsure about how to go about  adding KML and KMZ files to Google Earth, here’s a video tutorial to guide you through it.

How does the map work?

Now that you can see the map in Google Earth, here’s a quick explanation of how the map itself is put together (also explained simplistically in the diagram below):

The map  actually consists of two parts: there’s the layer you see in Google Earth, or the searchable version of that in your browser,  and then there’s the online database from which that map  is dynamically generated.

When you download our KML file, you don’t download the actual points and polygons, but a much smaller file that contains just a link to the database. Whenever you open that downloaded file in Google Earth, the link will retrieve the latest data from the database to generate the map.

Once you’ve downloaded the KML file, you won’t have to do it again. The link will always generate the map from the database,  which means that the latest version of it will always be showing on your machine.

Where does my project fit in?

As you may have guessed, when you add a project, you don’t add it directly to the map, but rather to the database that generates the map. All this entails, on your end, is going to a website, registering as a user, and adding your project information by essentially filling in a form.

Once you’re happy with your project, you can just tick the “show live” box on your project and it will automatically on the map. You’ll always have access to your project and you can change and remove anything that you’ve added at any time. Here’s some material to help you along.

We hope this post helps you understand how you can use the MAPA Conservation Map, and participate in it’s development!



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