Putting “ Swim for the reef ” on the map
The Queensland Environmental Defenders Office should be pleased with its Swim for the Reef fundraiser on 23 January 2016. Teams of swimmers clocked up 5,700 laps (285 km)—that’s about a tenth of the length of the Great Barrier Reef itself.
A couple of weeks before the event my friend Jo Bragg, CEO of EDO Qld, asked if I could produce a map to plot the progress of the swim. We agreed a map of the Great Barrier Reef, marked with a line to represent the distance swum, would be a tangible expression of the abstract idea of swimming for the reef. I said “yes, I can do that” and “give me a day or two to work out how”.
Instead of having a paper map displayed in one place, I thought it should be published on the web and regularly updated during the event (to support the social media campaign). I wanted to show the islands and reefs in detail (to reinforce that the Great Barrier Reef is a real place). And I wanted the path of the swim to follow the typical track taken by ships as they weave through the hazards.
I discussed the project with Thom Blake who has done more online mapping than I have. I followed his suggestion to use MapBox to create and update the map. MapBox Studio did the job, and it was free, though I found it confusing and poorly documented.
The base layers came from the wonderful OpenStreetMap, which I think of as the wikipedia of online maps. Unfortunately, underwater reefs have not yet been included in OpenStreetMap.
Fortunately the GBRMPA (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) website provided a kml data file which I used to show all the reefs on the map.
I decided to show the accumulated distance swum by the participants, laid out along a route that a ship might take from the southern boundary of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (just north of Fraser Island) to the northern limit of the area in the Torres Strait. I used a GBRMPA map of designated shipping areas to plot a course as far as Cairns. For the tightly regulated route north of Cairns I used the exact route specified by AMSA (the Australian Maritime Safety Authority). The whole route is drawn on the map as a thin red line. Then, as I received reports from the EDO people who were keeping count of the laps, I added a thicker red line to show progress.
I expect that next year the event will make an even bigger splash (and raise even more money to support the EDO). I’ll try to make the map better too—there is room for improvement.
Swimming for the reef
The Environmental Defenders Office is an independent community legal centre in Queensland. It does stalwart work to protect the environment. Among its many other activities, the EDO recently represented conservation groups in court cases about dredging and dumping of spoil in the Great Barrier Reef.
The EDO depends on community support to operate. Its latest fund-raiser is Swim for the Reef—an event in which teams of supporters swim as far as they can (in a swimming pool) between midday and midnight on 23 January 2016. I encourage you to sign up as a swimmer, and/or donate to the cause.
I’m not much of a swimmer, but I am showing my support by making an online map on which I’ll plot the total distance swum.
The aim (which will take more than one annual event to achieve) is to swim a total distance greater than the length of the Great Barrier Reef—more than 2,300 km. This will remind everyone of the vast scale of this important place. I hope that by plotting the swimmers’ progress on the online map I will reinforce our connection with the reef.
This will be my fifth year of sending out Christmas cards by email. It’s my way to cut the clutter that comes with the summer solstice.
This season’s card displays another sentimental picture from a Victorian illustrated magazine. Please enjoy more strange customs (involving bunches of prickly and parasitic vegetation); more foreign places (England, in the 1890s); and more outmoded technology (the rowing boat, the paddle steamer, the wood engraving).
I am not sure who drew this charming picture, but there is a good clue. In the bottom left corner are the initials FWB—probably Frederick Wood Baker (1862–1936). Baker was a Londoner, and a painter of maritime scenes set on the south coast of England.
When I went looking for pictures of paddle steamers that might have been the model for ‘Christmas Afloat’ I was struck by similarities with the Mavis—a steamer built in 1888 that operated on the River Thames. Did Baker base ‘Christmas Afloat’ on sketches of this vessel?
I am puzzled by the story ‘Christmas Afloat’ is meant to tell. Where is the ship supposed to be? She is not under way—the paddle wheel appears to be stopped. The decks are not level, so I suppose the ship is rolling, perhaps at anchor in open water with a bit of a swell running. Is the ship waiting for crew or passengers to come out in a boat? Or a pilot? Could this be Christmas Eve, and the four men in the boat are bringing a special delivery of holly and mistletoe to decorate the saloon?
I don’t have answers to these questions, though it is pleasant to ponder them. I’ll leave you with the piece of verse that was printed with the picture. Let’s stand up and recite these lines in a strong clear voice:
Sing hey for the steamer afloat !
Sing ho for the rudder and oar !
For here comes a brave little boat
Abreast on the surf from the shore,
With bunches of holly galore
And mistletoe fresh from the tree.
The tempest may roar, but here is a store
Of greetings for Christmas at sea.
Hints for visitors
Taking off your shoes, before you go into a room, can change your frame of mind. That simple ritual can concentrate your attention on the space you are entering.
Visitors to Mission House at Kerikeri in New Zealand are greeted by a sign that says These are New Zealand’s oldest floors. They will last longer if you take off your shoes. I was happy to comply with that polite request, and to save the floor from unnecessary wear. At the same time, my feet were sensitive to the texture of the floor, which prompted a discussion with the museum guide about the English and Māori workers who had pitsawn those boards in the early 1820s.
As a visitor to museums and historic places I enjoy experiences like this—interactions that bring the place to life in an easy and natural way.
Edward Tufte is an American academic who studies the communication of complex data. He tells this story about giving information in the best form, and at the best time, for it to be absorbed.
Whites gloves = Don’t touch
In my one-day course, I show 3 rare books: a 1570 Euclid, a 1613 Galileo, and a 1704 Newton. Then my assistant carries each book, open to the title page, around the room so people can get a close look. We had a problem with people wanting to touch the pages of the wonderful books; and a few people would sulk if told they could not touch the pages. So now my assistant pointedly wears white cloth gloves while showing the books to signal that they should not be touched.
That is, unobtrusive instructions at point of use.