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Use of GIS for Visitor Information at Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas NP
Tim Smith
The National Park Service's Submerged Resources Center (SRC) began a systematic survey, inventory and evaluation program in park underwater areas in 1993. From the outset, these surveys were designed to produce GIS-based products for use by managers, researchers and the public. The first of these projects began in Dry Tortugas National Park where more than 50 square miles of seabed have been surveyed and incorporated into a cumulative GIS database.

A central focus for SRC is public access to submerged natural and cultural heritage resources. Public access can be either direct access through site visitation, or indirect through GIS-based information in various forms about submerged resources. GIS provided managers with the tools needed for selecting appropriate diving and snorkeling areas in the park and for long-term monitoring. Indirect access through print and video media and web-based formats contribute to public education, understanding and enjoyment of submerged areas in the National Park System for both diving and non-diving park visitors.

One example of direct public access is the "Windjammer Site" at Dry Tortugas NP. This site is a principal park dive site that provides visitors with an outstanding diving experience on a visually stunning shipwreck rich with numerous species of coral and fish. Information for visitors about this British-built, iron-hulled sailing ship sunk in 1906 is available at the park, on the web and in a plastic laminated version that can be used underwater while visiting the site (see illustration). This underwater “trail guide” can be combined with “fishwatchers’ guides” to provide site visitors with an extraordinary underwater experience. Photographic and video imagery will soon be available on the SRC and park website along with additional historical and archeological information for those who wish to know more about this site. We are currently experimenting with various techniques to provide similar experiences for non-divers, young or physically challenged people interested in historic shipwrecks and the diverse natural environment that develops around them.
April 08, 2004