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Where is my spatial data?

Miles Macmillan-Lawler & Debhasish Bhakta, GRID-Arendal

Story by IW:LEARN December 19th, 2017

Ask any spatial scientist and they will tell you that spatial data makes the world go 'round! But where can you find spatial data and how can you ensure the spatial data collected in your project is available? The International Waters Learning Exchange & Resource Network (IW:LEARN) has developed a web-based tool and training to help project managers address just these questions.

Spatial data is data that can be represented and viewed on a map. Spatial data can include the location of a sample, a line representing a management boundary, or a polygon representing the extent of a seagrass bed. They can also be analysed using specialised computer software to identify trends and relationships between human activities, natural processes and the environment. Maps depicting spatial data are powerful tools for communicating complex environmental situations to policy and decision makers. They are also useful for engaging stakeholders and the wider community as they are visually compelling and easily understood.

Collecting and using spatial data to inform good environmental outcomes is a key component of many projects in the Global Environment Facility International Waters (GEF IW) portfolio. This is no exception for the suite of projects focussing on Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs), with many of these projects using spatial tools, including marine spatial planning, to support their Strategic Action Plan (SAP) implementation. A common challenge shared by many of these projects relates to the management of spatial data, both during the project and after the project is completed.

IW:LEARN has recognised this challenge and is supporting projects in managing their spatial data through the development of the IW:LEARN Spatial Lab – The Lab provides a suite of tools to support the storage, discovery, visualisation and sharing of spatial data. It also serves as a long-term archive for project data so that this data is not lost when a project is completed.

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At the 19th Annual LME Consultative Meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, GRID-Arendal in conjunction with IOC-UNESCO held an introductory training session on spatial data management. This session introduced participants to the IW:LEARN Spatial Lab covering functions such as importing data, describing the data using metadata, visualising the data in interactive maps, and sharing these maps and data with external users. The Lab provides powerful functionality but is still easy to use for non-experts. The training session was attended by over 50 people.

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The IW:LEARN Spatial Lab is available to all GEF IW projects to support the management of their spatial data. For those unable to make the training session, video tutorials and other training materials can be found on the IW:LEARN website under ‘Toolkits’ -

For further information on the IW:LEARN Spatial Lab or to request support managing your spatial data, email the team at

Footnote: Header photo by Miles Macmillan-Lawler