Catalina Island News

Re-Mapping Catalina Island

Catalina Island Conservancy

The Catalina Island Conservancy has a map and virtual tour for just about anything, including those for hiking and biking. Its new interactive maps, available online to the public, aid Catalina’s nearly 1 million annual visitors and islanders in understanding and navigating California’s most eco-tourism friendly Channel Island.

These maps, generated by the Conservancy’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technician, Ben Coleman, also track animals and plants on the Island and help define conservation work. With GIS technology replacing older cartography methods, the Conservancy recently learned it stewards 62 miles of shoreline and not 50.  GIS provides more detail and more precise measuring of coves, ragged beachscapes, even big rocks.

“GIS is the big toolbox of software and geographic techniques used to process spatial data,” Coleman said. “We have tons of information about the Island, its topography, weather and infrastructure that was collected over the years by my predecessor, Frank Starkey. As well, we have compiled information from our biologists, plant ecologists and rangers. The beauty of GIS is that it pertains to no specific subject matter. You can apply GIS anywhere there is spatial information.”

Online visitors to the Conservancy’s website can click on a graphic on top of the page that reads “Take a virtual tour …” to find a page with several of these maps ready for exploration.

One of the three-dimensional maps features an overland trip – via a bird’s-eye view – from Avalon to the Airport in the Sky along the same route the Conservancy’s Wildlands Express shuttle travels.  The Conservancy’s use of Google Earth showcases lifelike three-dimensional Island views.  The interactive trip along Stagecoach Road affords oversea views above San Pedro Channel to the mainland at Dana Point and Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Another link allows exploration of a 3-D model of the Airport in the Sky. The viewer can navigate at ground level around and inside the airport terminal as well as on the tarmac and surrounding landscapes.

Those familiar with 3-D gaming or “previsualization”, a process used by film directors and stunt coordinators to plan movie scenes, will recognize the three-dimensional techniques used in modeling the airport. While the restaurant and store DC-3 Gifts & Grill actually inhabits the inner-space of the terminal, the interactive display at this point only visualizes the building’s shell.

“I like the variety of projects I encounter in this job,” Coleman said. “Every department has different needs. I get requests from them and try to deliver to them what they are envisioning. There are an infinite number of ways to look at the island through what you emphasize in maps.” One map illustrates the Catalina Island fox population recovery with a user-controlled timeline. Another shows the progress of the Conservancy’s Catalina Habitat Improvement and Recovery Program.

Coleman said that visualization of the Island’s steep landscapes through 3-D maps not only helps orient people geographically on Catalina, it allows the maps to tell a more complete story. The actual Stagecoach Road travels north and northwest on a vertiginous course and rises 1,500 feet within three miles from sea level to the East Summit. The vertical dimension of so many of the Island’s features is difficult to capture using only flat maps.

“Previously, we used two-dimensional calculations to measure roads,” Coleman said. “This method did not take elevation into consideration. Because our topographic variations are steep, elevation is an important consideration. But now with advanced analysis tools, we are actually able to produce three-dimensional maps.” Coleman uncovered an extra two miles of roads and trails on the Island by taking the terrain into account.