Spatial Intelligence for Conservation Planning

Marxan revolutionizes collaborative conservation planning in the cloud

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Jul 27, 2023

Spatial Intelligence for Conservation Planning

Marxan revolutionizes collaborative conservation planning in the cloud


No items found.


Jul 27, 2023

Conservation planning around the world faces numerous challenges, including too little (or too much) data, limited resources, and a wide range of stakeholders to include in decision-making. However, technological advancements are revolutionizing the way we approach these issues. One such advancement is the Marxan Planning Platform (MaPP), built with Mapbox by a coalition of The Nature Conservancy, Microsoft, and Vizzuality.

Spatial intelligence for conservation planning

Geospatial analysis often comes with a steep learning curve, making it difficult to do collaboratively with a wide user base of non-experts. Complex technical workflows mean  end-users often must spend precious time learning software and trying to make sense of complex data, instead of the collaborative deliberations and creative problem-solving they set out to do.

“Engaging a global community on evidence-based planning is both an opportunity and a challenge. We need tools that enable a wide cross-section of the planet to make quick, good decisions about where and how to invest in biodiversity conservation.” - Craig Mills, CEO, Vizzuality

MaPP is designed to apply location intelligence differently. MaPP allows users to structure planning processes, integrate spatial data, and generate maps that highlight investment opportunities for promoting conservation and sustainable management of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems. Its new intuitive design helps users incorporate data, move through guided workflows and identify priorities for conservation actions.

MaPP’s new design enhances the UX by simplifying the interface and making it more understandable. (Image credit: Vizzuality)

Most striking is how MaPP facilitates collaborative planning. In spatial conservation planning, stakeholders must articulate their goals and preferences about the use and protection of natural resources. The Marxan Planning Platform helps users express these considerations in formats like targets and costs, that can be optimized in relation to conservation and other goals, helping to identify win-win situations, or at least, acceptable compromises. 

MaPP can help conservation practitioners, governments, local communities, and industries tackle a variety of planning challenges. For example, it can help identify protected areas that support species persistence, including under a changing climate. The platform can help identify options to minimize the economic costs of conservation for particular industries, like renewable energy development or marine fisheries. And along the way, all stakeholders can contribute and watch how the software accounts for diverse perspectives and considerations in real-time. 

“When we set out to design the first cloud-hosted version of Marxan, we knew we needed an accessible platform that could revolutionize spatial planning and ensure that anyone, anywhere, can turn data into actionable, evidence-based conservation plans. Mapbox was an obvious choice for us to enable high-perfomance on-the-fly rendering of Marxan’s solutions and an accessible API.” - Dr. Jennifer McGowan, Global Director of Marxan and Chief Scientist of Untamed Planet 

Charting a Course for the Upper Okavango River Basin

One example where MaPP is already helping to shape an evidence-based approach to planning is in the Upper Okavango River Basin. Here dozens of on-the-ground partners, scientists, and NGOs are supporting the government of Angola in the early stages of reconciling the region’s rich biodiversity and community needs. With the help of MaPP, project partners can plan for current and emerging development requirements while safeguarding biodiversity and animal movement corridors.

"MaPP is a powerful platform that enables scientists and partners to quickly explore various values and scenarios on complex landscapes" - Anne Trainor, Landscape Ecologist TNC Africa.
The Cuito river makes up part of the wider Okavango river basin landscape (Image credit: Roshni Lodhia)

Mapbox enables spatial decision-support on-the-fly and in the cloud

Mapbox provides highly customizable and performant mapping solutions, equipping Vizzuality to create the interactive, data-driven maps they envisioned within the larger Marxan architecture. Within intuitive map interfaces, MaPP integrates custom base maps, biodiversity and socio-economic spatial layers, and Marxan’s optimization algorithms to help users to prioritize and visualize areas for conservation efforts. Dynamic, on-the-fly rendering of calculated conservation scenarios is made possible with the Mapbox GL JS library, which is designed to rapidly and smoothly render large amounts of spatial data and data-driven styling instructions.

“MaPP users get instantaneous visual feedback on how changes to planning scenarios match their conservation goals. With the fast rendering of Mapbox GL, our scientists and engineers were able to build this smooth feedback loop —even for very complex conservation projects spanning large areas and including lots of intricate spatial details.” - Dr. Andrea Rota, Software Engineer, Vizzuality

By building with Mapbox GL JS, MaPP is also pushing the frontier of what’s possible on the cloud using the latest map rendering and data analysis technologies. MaPP is the first cloud-hosted conservation planning platform that builds and compares conservation scenarios in real-time. Users can upload relevant data to their goals, define planning areas and units, set conservation targets and costs, identify conservation gaps, and collaboratively examine alternative solutions and trade-offs. Having one central management dashboard also means that records on data provenance and the decision-making process are retained, which is vital for sharing and learning across the global community of Marxan users. With the highly-efficient map rendering of Mapbox GL JS, MaPP handles all this processing smoothly, delivering a polished and highly-responsive visual interface for evaluating and communicating conservation scenarios.

The “Solutions” stage within MaPP allows users to examine the details of various scenarios to evaluate how potential solutions impact defined targets. (Image credit: Marxan)

Spatial software supports inclusive conservation action

As the world-leading conservation planning software, MaPP is developing innovative solutions to the challenges of traditional conservation planning.

The fusion of Mapbox mapping technology, Vizzuality's skilled developers and designers, and Microsoft Azure-hosting, enhanced Marxan code for faster and flexible settings when paired with the deep conservation planning experience of The Nature Conservancy and partners, has created a transformative tool for conservation planning. 

"Mapbox is part of Vizzuality's default toolbox for most of our data-intensive web mapping projects like MaPP. It provides a uniform and smooth developer experience for our team, and allows to easily collaborate on map styles and branding with our clients." - Dr. Andrea Rota, Software Engineer, Vizzuality

The Marxan Planning Platform not only streamlines the planning process but also empowers local stakeholders to shape their environment's future. By providing accessible, updatable, flexible and easy-to-interpret information about processes to identify conservation priorities, the platform ensures that resources are allocated effectively and efficiently, ultimately leading to more successful outcomes for people and nature.

“MaPP is facilitating the scaling up of spatial planning, assisting countries and organizations to inform conservation decisions around the world.” - Fernanda Thiesen Brum, Spatial Prioritization Scientist, The Nature Conservancy

Thanks to software improvements in the latest version, MaPP is now available for direct integration into recently catalyzed initiatives. One of them is the Campaign for Nature’s ‘30x30’ strategy, which aims to move 100 countries closer to their conservation targets to protect 30% of global land, freshwater, and oceans by 2030. The hope is that smarter and more accessible decision-support tools can in turn help the process of conservation planning to be more inclusive and democratic for all interested parties, particularly Indigenous peoples and local communities.

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