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Transactions in GIS
By Darius Bartlett

Book Review: Place Matters

Place Matters: Geospatial Tools for Marine Science, Conservation and Management in the Pacific Northwest edited by DAWN J WRIGHT AND ASTRID J SCHOLZ. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, OR, 2005. 205 pp. ISBN 0-87071-057-5. $29.95 (soft cover).

Place does matter. And, as any student of, or dweller on, the edge of our continents knows full well, marine and coastal places matter enormously. This book is concerned with one such place — the Pacific coast of the United States and Canada, and the adjacent marine areas. It is based on presentations made at one of a set of twelve thematic symposia, organised by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle, Washington, in February 2004, under the general heading of "Living Oceans and Coastlines." The overall objective of the workshop, according to the editors in their preface, was to allow scientists and practitioners from a variety of backgrounds to showcase "how they are using marine GIS to handle and exploit present and future data streams from observatories, experiments, numerical models and other sources" to facilitate informed and hopefully sustainable management of marine and coastal resources in the Pacific Northwest. Place Matters mainly contains chapters based on presentations given at that symposium, supplemented by a few additional invited contributions.

The book opens with an impassioned foreword by Sylvia Earle, Marine Biologist, Explorer-in-Residence for the National Geographic Society, and herself resident on the coast of California. In her brief essay, Earle invokes Lewis and Clark's exploration of North America, Theodore Roosevelt's championing of the American National Parks system, Rachel Carson's urgent whistle-blowing in the cause of marine protection and conservation, and even the writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, to argue that time is running out rapidly for the world's oceans. "The key", she argues, "is to not only admire the good, thoughtful scientific analyses embodied [in this book], but to heed the underlying messages."

The "good, thoughtful scientific analyses" are certainly present within the covers of this book. They are contained within thirteen chapters, organised into three substantive sections and a final epilogue. Between them, they document a wide range of geospatial tools (GIS, of course, but also sonar, LIDAR, satellite imagery of various sorts, web mapping, and dynamic process models), techniques for data collection and analysis, and a variety of policy instruments and models, that are variously being used to aid current management of the northwest coast of the United States and Canada — although in practice the scope, reach and particularly the value of the book extend beyond this specific geography. Most of the chapters are multi-authored, and represent contributions to the field by research teams drawn from a broad diversity of professional and disciplinary backgrounds, as well as NGOs and coastal stakeholders, many of whom live and work within the study region.

The first section is the most overtly technological, and is intended to lay conceptual and methodological foundations for the use of GIS in marine conservation. The topics covered range in focus from the delineation of off-shore management boundaries, through techniques for mapping, to the dynamic modelling of fisheries and marine habitats. This is followed by four chapters which, under the group heading of "Science in Action," examine selected case studies of actual geospatial tools that have been developed and used to support conservation and management of the U.S. Pacific Coast. These include tools for mining legacy datasets for new information; the use of GIS-based systems to integrate environmental, socio-economic and "equity" dimensions of nearshore fisheries; and the assembly of a comprehensive, web-enabled set of education, research and communication tools under the umbrella of the Oregon Coastal Atlas.

The third section of the book takes a somewhat different approach. While still primarily concerned with the role of GIS and related tools, here the technologies are located within a much more human-oriented context. Thus we read of initiatives to support and extend use of spatial information technologies by combining them with methods of participatory decision-making, the formalisation and capture of traditional ecological knowledge and, ultimately, the quest for sustainable management of marine or coastal resources through the engagement of all interested parties and stakeholders. In many ways, this is the most interesting and valuable part of the book, since it extends the application of GIS for coastal matters well beyond the more technocentric focus of most texts.

Overall, Place Matters presents the reader with a comprehensive, state-of-the-art review of the role geospatial tools and techniques might play in the management of complex coastal and marine areas and, very usefully, places the technology into its operational and geographical contexts. At times, this does tend to be slightly selfcongratulary, and I occasionally found myself hoping for more information on how the tools were actually constructed and used, but these are minor quibbles.

Slightly more perplexing was the question of who Place Matters is aimed at, and (not always the same thing) who would gain most value from reading it? Unfortunately, it is not entirely clear who is intended as the target audience for this book — indeed, even the editors seem to have slightly mixed views on this. Paradoxically, even though the geographic focus is on the Pacific Northwest, I suspect it is readers from other parts of the world who will stand to gain most from this volume, rather than inhabitants of the study area itself. It will certainly be of enormous value to coastal zone managers generally, and especially to postgraduate students: for example, I can definitely see it becoming essential core reading for the taught Masters' degree in GIS and Coastal Zone Management that we present here in Cork. Helpfully, and to underscore the value of the book for a student readership, the editors have established a website as companion to the book, in which have been placed some of the GIS tools and extensions described in the text, as well as datasets, Powerpoint presentations given at the AAAS Symposia, and various additional resources.

My only other quibble is with the choice "Place Matters" as title for the book, which I feel to be an unfortunate misnomer. Even with the addition of the human-oriented third section, it is still a moot point whether this is a book about "place" at all, at least as the term is generally used within the humanistic geographer's lexicon to denote the meaning and significance attached to a particular location (e.g. Tuan 1977).

Certainly, we encounter excellent descriptions of various techniques by which human connotations and values (Haggett 2001, p. 792) associated with the Pacific Northwest may be investigated and melded into management strategies for the region, but the focus throughout is on methods. Even in those chapters that focus on unravelling the complex interconnections between environment, economy and culture in the fisheries sector, where the sense of group identity among the stakeholders is paramount, the emphasis still remains on ways of extracting and working with the data, rather than the significance of the results obtained. Thus, even after several readings, this reader still felt himself little nearer to understanding or identifying with the actual territories and seascapes of the Pacific Northwest than he was before he started. In short, I found no "sense of place" embedded within the text. This is a pity because Place Matters does otherwise offer much of interest and relevance to the coastal and GIS communities. To my mind the subtitle, "Geospatial Tools for Marine Science, Conservation and Management in the Pacific Northwest", while somewhat longer and more convoluted, is a much more accurate reflection of what to expect.

Darius Bartlett
Department of Geography
University College Cork, Ireland


Haggett P 2001 Geography: A Global Synthesis. Harlow, Prentice Hall
Tuan Y-F 1977 Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. London, Edward Arnold

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