Seychelles is admired around the world for the beauty of its natural environment and the protection it is given.
But for policy makers and conservationists to develop the right protection measures they need access to clear, concise and correct information. Providing this information is the role of environmental information and data managers.
In the field of environmental protection the credible information required by policy makers is obtained from processing data, collected throughout the year and which has been collected and collated by numerous environmental bodies for many years.
The main agency responsible for collecting this information is the Environment Department, through its different sections and divisions, along with a number of local environmental non-governmental organisations. The data these bodies collect covers both terrestrial and marine environments for the majority of the islands of Seychelles.
Seychelles is signatory to several international conventions which monitor the status of the global environment. These conventions are kept informed through different local reporting processes which feed into larger regional ones and ending up contributing to a global report.
An example of this is the Global Environment Outlook (GEO). The outlook reports give the current state of the environment at a given time, along with proposed mitigation measures to address the issues identified using integrated environmental assessment techniques.
The GEO is compiled from regional outlook reports such as the African Environment Outlook (AEO) which are, in turn, fed into by country level environment outlook reports. To ensure all of the national and regional outlooks provide comparable data, a set of determined environmental indicators are assessed and reported upon.
Having reliable and credible data and information readily available is crucial to achieving this. Seychelles is now in the process of preparing its first national Environment Outlook report. In the past, Seychelles reported on the state of its environment through a collection of other locally produced reports and direct contributions from the major players in the environment field in the country.
There are several tools available and in use locally for the storage and management of environmental data and information. Most of the organisations involved in data gathering and processing have some sort of data storage mechanism or facilities ranging from relatively simple Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to professionally created complex databases.
With recent developments in both the hardware and software markets, it is now much more affordable and possible for most organisations, big and small, to establish a decent data management system to enable them to capture, store, manipulate and analyse their data.
From this information they are able to generate useable information for sharing and publication. It is important to note, however, that data collection must be done properly. Correctly collected data must then be verified and validated before the analysis process, otherwise the results can easily end up being misleading.
Tools such as Geographical Information System (GIS) are powerful instruments to use in ensuring data is properly handled and can be effectively used for publication and interpretation.
With its powerful analytical and data manipulation capabilities, along with its visual output abilities, GIS can detect abnormalities within the datasets if it is properly used. As it generates easily read visual output, such as maps, GIS output can be quickly interpreted and any incorrect data relatively easily identified. However there is so only much that a GIS can do.
Proper and effective data collection relies upon the diligence and commitment of the researchers, scientists and technicians working in the field.
Another tool which can be considered useful in data and information management is a metadatabase, which lists the data that is held in a particular database. A metadatabase could, for example, list in addition to the data collected, information about when, where and by whom the data was collected. A metadatabase enables researchers to quickly find out what and where data are held.
An effective way of making use of a metadatabase is by hosting it on a webportal, so that interested organisations can access it from around the globe. Such techniques allow for the rapid share of information. Turtle researchers in Seychelles, for example, may be able to use an online metadatabase on turtle research to find out how information collected locally compares to information from other key turtle populations.
The Ministry of Environment and Energy recently established the Environmental Data and Information Management Section. This unit has been tasked with handling data and information generated by the ministry and using tools, such as GIS, to generate useable documents from the information it stores. It is also working alongside other leading environmental organisations to create a central point for all locally collected environmental data, to give researchers, policy makers and members of the public quick and easy access to the data they need.