Revolutionary technology developed by a billionaire philanthropist will soon offer New Zealanders a new perspective of our coastline.
The online program SeaSketch, tailored for New Zealand by United States researchers, will make designing sites or reserves on our seascape as easy as a few mouse clicks.
By sandwiching a cross-section of information and applying it to a digital map of our coast, planners will be able to crunch a wide range of data when mapping potential areas for aquaculture sites or marine reserves.
And while they're doing it, they'll be able to chat online to share, discuss and modify designs.
"It's new, it's a world first and it's hugely innovative," the Department of Conservation's marine conservation team manager, Sean Cooper, told the Weekend Herald.
"This sort of thing has been out of the reach of everyday New Zealanders ... Now it's within their reach."
The software has its origins in another programme, MarineMap, which University of California researchers offered for planning along the US coastline.
Mapping new shipping channels to reduce whale deaths - and calculating the associated costs at the same time - was one example of how it could be used.
It was spotted by Forbes rich-lister Jack Dangermond, founder of the world's largest geographic information systems company, Esri, who donated US$500,000 to revamp it as SeaSketch.
DoC, which first approached the university about MarineMap in 2009, signalled interest in the new software soon after.
University researcher Dr Will McClintock noted New Zealand had a mandate for ocean conservation planning throughout its exclusive economic zone.
"New Zealand recognises that, in order for these plans to have the greatest chance of success, you have to let the stakeholders create the plans."
Dr McClintock said the software meant stakeholders did not have to be experts in planning technology to design plans that factored in policies and scientific values.
For planning, Mr Cooper said, the time saved by the software would be significant.
"This provides a way for all New Zealanders to get involved and have their say over what goes on in the coast and how it's managed."
The programme has already attracted keen interest from regional councils and Mr Cooper expected other countries to watch closely after its launch early next year.By Jamie Morton @Jamienzherald Email Jamie