I had the pleasure of reading the manuscript for this book whilst holidaying on the southern coast of the island of Hvar, one of the Dalmatian islands in the Adriatic Sea. Whilst there I reflected on the fact that the seas in this immediate area were rather like the holiday itself - they were an escape from the reality that existed through much of time and space. Thus, the waters were sparklingly clean and short spells of snorkelling revealed an abundant array of numerous fish. How different from the situation faced by an increasing proportion of the world's fisheries and oceans!
Vasilis's book serves the fundamental purpose of addressing some of the problems that almost universally beset oceans and their fisheries. It does not attempt to do this in the normal way by undertaking a "problem to solution" synthesis. Thus the book does not attempt to summarise the global demise of fin-fish stocks, or spell out the myriad problems and complexities relating to fisheries or ocean management, and then to make tentative solutions. This book goes a step further. It says -"Look we know about the problems. This is how we can best bring information technology to bear upon these challenges. This is how we might carry out the exhaustive analyses that are necessary when considering problems in a complex marine milieu". The intention of the book is therefore to illustrate the potential for GIS-based analyses, and to show the main technical and methodological means of confronting the demise of oceanic biological systems. In attempting this difficult task, the book achieves its goals in a very positive way. Given the plight of many marine systems, this is indeed a very timely achievement.
Over the last two decades there has been increasing recognition that problems in fisheries and related marine areas are nearly all manifest in the spatio-temporal domain. Putting it somewhat simply, much of the marine biological environment is out of equilibrium. We know that the reasons for this are imbedded in a miscellany of factors concerned with poor environmental management; a certain slovenliness in introducing or operating appropriate management techniques; species over-fishing allied to excessive fishing capacity; and a simple lack of knowledge on means of optimising productivity in fisheries and other marine ecosystems. Either singly or collectively these reasons are manifest in biological systems that cannot be maintained and are thus in decline. However, to confront this challenge, the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), allied to other spatial management technologies, have emerged as a potential saviour. Thus, here is a set of systems that if carefully and judiciously applied, clearly have the potential to go a long way towards solving many of the space related problems. Perhaps they will provide the extra impetus needed to reverse the worrying marine biological trends.
An examination of the contents pages of this book gives an insight into the extraordinary breadth of subject matter that we must be concerned with. The oceans are truly complex places. They exhibit an almost infinite range of variables and processes that themselves might be integrated in endless combinations. If we are to examine problems in the marine environment, it is necessary to partition this environment into manageable, conceptually-based classes or categories. Vasilis had made this very clear, and the reader can easily progress from one identifiable variable or process to another. Yet all the time linkages are stressed, and the reader is left in no doubt that variables or processes cannot be measured and studied in isolation.
Overcoming the enormously complex marine-based problems to which GIS work is being directed will not be easy, and it is likely that new problems will materialise at a similar rate to that at which existing problems will be overcome. The difficulties of applying GIS in the marine sphere greatly exceed those encountered with terrestrial applications. Here the variables mapped are static and are frequently permanent. But in the marine realm almost everything moves, including the milieu itself! And most movements are chaotic and unpredictable. This leads to two major considerations that terrestrial GIS seldom must face, (i) how frequently should the variables or processes be mapped, and (ii) the resolution at which any mapping or data gathering should be carried out. These considerations are not easily resolved, and when they are there will not be universal answers. Another complexity faced by marine GIS applications is that of operating in a 3 dimensional environment. The added dimension has enormous consequences for data volumes and data storage, for spatial analyses and for more basic considerations related to visualisation of GIS output. Although progress is being made in applications of 3D GIS, these are mostly where they are used for sub-surface, soil or geology structural mapping, applications where the moving milieu is not an additional problem. Whilst this book may not provide answers to many of the additional problems related to working with marine GIS's, it will certainly steer us towards much of the work that is being carried out here.
Probably the greatest strength of Vasilis's work is the huge range of appropriate research material that he has gathered together. I have been involved in the area of "fisheries GIS" for nearly two decades, and I try to keep abreast with developments, but I can honestly say that I had no idea that such an extraordinary range of work was being undertaken. Thus, we are provided with a very detailed synopsis of all the latest applications to marine sciences, not only in GIS but also in associated fields such as remote sensing and acoustic sonar. Additionally, data sources are explored, variations of appropriate software and hardware are examined, and potential methods of adopting GIS for management purposes are discussed. Simply finding all of this source material was a notable achievement, and if the reader wished to get added utility from the book, he/she might approach Vasilis for insights into his information search mechanisms!
As I have intimated earlier, this book is both timely and original. It does not specifically complement other books; instead it is unique and it greatly adds to our store of information on what is taking place in the spheres of fisheries and oceanography, particularly in the sub-fields of spatial and temporal analyses. For anyone just commencing work in this subject area, then the work is invaluable. For those of us who have been working in this field for even a short period, and who have an awareness of how great are the scope and magnitude of the problems, then the book will be a guide to additional and potential problem-solving sources. I truly believe that this work will make a significant contribution to problem resolution in both the fisheries and oceanographic environments.