Scoping and developing an information system for native fish in the Murray-Darling Basin

Key words: information system, data, database, native fish, Native Fish Strategy

The overarching goal of the Native Fish Strategy (NFS) is the rehabilitation of native fish communities in the Murray-Darling Basin (the Basin) to 60% of pre- Europeans levels, within 50 years.  Achieving this goal will require robust information to monitor condition. At the start of the project, curators throughout the Basin already managed significant dataset holdings, and it was considered beneficial to develop a spatial information system to synthesize fish and relevant biophysical data across the Basin. It was believed that such an information system would provide river managers with ready access to past research in their region to support decision-making.

Broad aim and methods: A key aim of this program of research funded through the Native Fish Strategy was to describe key elements of a spatial fish information system (Murray Darling Freshwater Fish Information System – MDFFIS). Specifically, this project aimed to:

  • Identify essential elements of the MDFFIS
  • Decide on the best structure for the MDFFIS
  • Outline a clear path for development of the MDFFIS

A scoping study was conducted initially, in which the function and form and desired outputs of an MDFFIS were considered, process mapped out for development, and recommendations made for next steps. This involved an extensive review of spatial datasets and case studies to investigate the relative merits of alternative approaches. A conceptual model was also developed, and outputs were presented to a workshop in 2008 for  comment. Workshop feedback was then used to inform consideration of issues and processes for data input, management and extraction, and user interface functionality.

A preliminary metadata database was then developed, with searchable functionality. Data were sourced by literature searching and project questionnaires, and spatial layers developed using ESRI ArcGIS to enable the spatial extent of datasets to be represented.

An MDFFIS would be a powerful resource for management of Basin fish communities.  (Photo courtesy of Jamin Forbes)

Figure 1. An MDFFIS would be a powerful resource for management of Basin fish communities. (Photo courtesy of Jamin Forbes)

Findings: The MDFFIS is a system that can store, manage and synthesise data while providing information outputs and a platform for data analysis. The opportunities it presents in terms of initial collation of data and eventual range of functionality makes it desirable to a wide range of stakeholders.

In developing the MDFFIS four components were identified: Collection > Storage > Management > Supply

  1. Collection: refers to the initial collection of metadata/data that would ultimately be the basis of the MDFFIS.
  2. Storage: is the infrastructure required to store the metadata and data in a structured format.
  3. Management: is the infrastructure and protocols and personnel required to administer and maintain the metadata/data including quality control and access levels.
  4. Supply: is the infrastructure and processes required to access and search the MDFFIS.

Initial collection and storage was undertaken, with the following activities planned after project completion:

  1. continued collecting and storing metadata
  2. establishment of links with organisations to house, manage and supply data on the MDFFIS
  3. development of a working prototype user-interface for data discovery
  4. demonstration of how products from a fully fledged MDFFIS will support decision making (i.e. prioritising research funding and management actions as well as accountability and reporting on NFS driving actions).

Lessons learned and future directions: In conjunction with other projects the MDFFIS was identified as offering potential to help define Basin data management standards. The MDFFIS would add value to research and management efforts because it would enable information to be synthesised across many research activities across space and time. By ensuring adequate resources for development and maintenance plus sustaining contact (both passive and active) with stakeholders the MDFFIS was thought likely to prove a very useful and adaptable resource for Murray-Darling fish information into the future.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies: This project was funded through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Native Fish Strategy and undertaken by a project team from the Arthur Rylah Institute (ARI) for Environmental Research.

Contact: Arthur Rylah Institute, 23 Brown St, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia, +61 3 9450 8600.


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