Launched in 2011, the Service Catalog (ServCat) is a centralized online database designed to preserve information about, or used by, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Jean Kenyon, inventory and monitoring specialist at the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, is one of ServCat’s most enthusiastic users.
Kenyon knows that when a Service employee transfers or retires from a refuge or other field station, that person’s work, research and collected data could be lost if not safely stored for future access. ServCat (https://ecos.fws.gov/ServCat/) is the Service’s solution.
For example, Kenyon is using ServCat to preserve the work of former Service biologist James Maragos, one of the Refuge System’s foremost experts in coral reef ecosystems, who retired in 2011. As a contractor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Kenyon partnered with Maragos for 10 years. They conducted underwater assessments and documented families, genera and species of coral at each of the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands refuges.
Now, as a Service employee, she continues to analyze and archive Maragos’ extensive catalog of support material, including data sheets, notes, spreadsheets and thousands of 35mm slides. Apart from Maragos and Kenyon, it’s unlikely that anyone could decipher the notes describing slides or labeling data sets.
The information Kenyon has entered into ServCat represents baseline data that depict the conditions of coral reef ecosystems the first time they were seen by human eyes. Without such a baseline, further scientific assessment is difficult. Whether 20 minutes or 20 years from now, biologists will be able to compare the reef conditions they observe to the baseline data. Such information is vital to the study of reefs in relation to human impact, coral bleaching and climate change.
“ServCat is the ideal tool to preserve it all,” says Kenyon, who has spent considerable time scanning slides, transcribing notes and developing metadata. To date, she has entered approximately 6,700 digital photographs and 150 published and unpublished reports and peer-reviewed papers on coral reef ecosystems in the Pacific and their management.
“I couldn’t have done it without the help of the ServCat team,” she says. That team, based at the Natural Resource Program Center in Fort Collins, CO, has included Sarah Shultz, Dan Craver and Richard Easterbrook.
Kenyon knows that an easy ServCat search by refuge name or species will quickly give wildlife biologists and refuge managers – now and in the future – valuable information regarding a specific region, refuge or wildlife management issue.
“Science is a layering process,” she says. “We need to build on and learn from the work of others. But the reality is that people leave. They get new jobs or they retire. What happens to their data, their legacy afterwards? People tend to lose track.”
“Storing data in ServCat prevents that loss,” says Jana Newman, chief of the Natural Resource Program Center’s Inventory and Monitoring Branch. “But data tucked away that can’t be found are also lost. With ServCat, we have made it easy to store and share information.”
ServCat data are available to the public through data.gov, a clearinghouse for federal government data, and ServCat makes it easy for Service scientists to share data with other researchers, agencies and nongovernmental organizations.
Lindsay Brady is a social scientist at the Natural Resource Program Center in Fort Collins, CO.