Two Crown Point locals — one a mapping software specialist, the other an ex-physicist — who share a common interest in the nearby ecological reserve are spreading the word about the intricacies of their beloved marsh through an interactive online map, which provides a virtual educational tour of the reserve by way of 30 wildlife photographs taken from various points within the more than 40-acre marsh, alongside descriptions of the species, flora and fauna natural to that area.
The partnership between Rupert Essinger, a mapping software specialist at Esri, and Roy Little, a Scotland native with a background in high-energy physics and engineering, blossomed through their volunteer work with Friends of Mission Bay Marshes, which was founded by Little five years ago.
“It’s just a small volunteer group that is interested in the marsh and helps UCSD do maintenance and outreach,” said Little. “A significant part of our mission is to get the public involved and interested in the marsh’s existence and well-being, so in order to do that, we have to somehow get the public involved. The map is one potential technique for getting to a somewhat larger audience.”
Essinger’s desire to conduct a beta test for a new mapping product and Little’s penchant for post-retirement nature photography seamlessly merged to create the Mission Bay Marsh Reserve map, a one-stop virtual information kiosk similar to educational signage surrounding the reserve, but without the expense, exposure to damage or risk of displaying outdated information.
“In the good old days, people put up signs; however, it takes a lot of time and effort, and you have to keep them up to date. Otherwise, they die and get faded and people destroy them,” said Little. “Nowadays, people are much more interested in the electronic way of doing business, so we’re trying this to see if we get any interest.”
To keep with the changing times and embrace the 21st century’s way of educating, Little also indicated his hopes of eventually establishing a series of QR codes at various locations throughout the marsh where smartphone users can scan the code for more information about how the inner-workings of the marsh are interconnected and comprise a larger ecological system.
“People study plants or birds or crabs, but it’s only recently that people have gotten into the business of looking at global ecological systems,” he said. “Biological systems are incredibly complicated. They’re so interconnected and interwoven with huge feedback loops inside them that it’s very hard to [illustrate] it.”
The map is just one way of introducing nature lovers to the interconnectedness of the entire marsh system within their own backyard — from the timing of breeding season to the nesting requirements for the endangered clapper rail’s natural habitat.
“You just learn little bits and pieces of the ecology as you go along,” he said. “Lots of people go by the marsh, and a fair number look out and say, ‘Oh look, that’s a marsh. Nice view.’ Then they go on. It’s actually very ecologically important, but you don’t really see it as a casual passerby.”
Another way Little is bringing the marsh’s existence to light is through his participation at the upcoming Rose Creek Fest on Feb. 9, where he will showcase a display of his nature photography from the marsh, conduct a bird quiz and take people on a volunteer cleanup of the marsh to remove invasive plants in celebration of Love Your Wetlands Day.
“Going to the fest is a good way to get introduced to the marsh,” he said. “Getting people involved in the marsh is the first step to getting people involved in the bigger picture.”
To access the Mission Bay Marsh Reserve map, visit www.missionbaymarshes.org/marsh_map_tour. For more information about Friends of Mission Bay Marshes, visit www.missionbaymarshes.org.