Visualizing Salmon

Visualizing Salmon

Wild salmon inhabit a vast ecosystem that encompasses the rivers within and the ocean between coastal countries of the Pacific Rim — from glacial river systems in Alaska to permafrosted regions of northern Russia, from the North American temperate rainforests, to the rivers of Japan. They run as far north as the Kamchatka tundra, and as far south as Taiwan and Mexico.

But within the past century and a half, many populations have declined in abundance and diversity; without the big picture, we haven’t been able to understand or quantify these losses in Pacific salmon populations.

Recent assessments have been completed on salmon populations and salmon fisheries. In 2008, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) completed its first global assessment of sockeye salmon, an iconic species of salmon. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), meanwhile, has completed a series of assessments on the health of salmon fisheries throughout the North Pacific, including commercial fisheries in Alaska, British Columbia and Russia. Although IUCN and MSC reports are publicly available, they are often lengthy and laden with inaccessible language and data. Thus, we have partnered with State of the Salmon — a joint program of the Wild Salmon Center and Ecotrust — to create two distinct data visualizations that attempt to reach a broader, more diverse audience.

IUCN Salmon Status Visualization

To address the four unique intended audiences (scientists, river managers, policy makers, and the general public), we designed four unique ways of looking at the findings.

This is a data cluster view, where each unique cluster represents a population, and each node represents a sampling region. You can also look deeper at the information to see the trends and specific population figures.

This view shows an historical perspective and reveals that salmon populations experience growth cycles affected strongly by climate.

As a result of poor ocean conditions in the 1960s and 70s, population abundance drastically declined. The conditions improved in the 80s and some populations increased by more than 2,000%. Today, the trends show that we’re in another climatic downturn. Of the 62 populations evaluated in the assessment, 27% are threatened with extinction and five have already gone extinct.

The data from the assessment is also available in a more traditional map format. However, instead of showing a geographic view, we’ve created a hydrographic view by highlighting the rivers systems where salmon are present. Each river system is color-coded to match the assessment status. As in each of the other views, all of the assessment data is present, but the way you access it is unique.

Visitors can even print these views or save them as a PDF, enabling scientists to use the tool as a way to extend their research and presentations.

It is through partnerships with non-profit organizations such as State of the Salmon and Wild Salmon Center that we, as designers, are able to stay true to our goal of “doing good with data.” As a company, we want to help make sense of the enormous amount of data generated by science today, and unlock its potential in socially responsible ways.

We created this next piece as a way for the public to understand and get involved with the MSC’s fisheries certification program.

MSC Salmon Certification

The Marine Stewardship Council scores salmon fisheries in a number of performance indicators under three broad Principles, and the scores are then averaged to come to an overall grade for each Principle. Fisheries that that receive a score of at least 80 out of 100 for each Principle are then able to use the MSC logo on their products. It’s like having an organic rating. Prior to this visualization it was very difficult for the average person to understand or follow the MSC certification process.

Wild salmon are a keystone in the great rivers of the Pacific Rim, and, if properly conserved and managed, can be a sustainable source of nutritious seafood for harvest by recreational, commercial and native subsistence fisheries.

We recognize that on-the-ground changes will need to be as unique as the salmon populations under threat, so we invite you to continue to explore this tool, contact us to ask us questions, and contribute your own fresh ideas on how to solve our current and future challenges.

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