The FAIR Island Project links data with place of origin

The FAIR Island Project links data with place of origin 1
The FAIR Island Project seeks to establish a durable connection between field stations and the data they generate.

By the FAIR Island Team

Every year, field stations like those in the UC Natural Reserve System generate a wealth of data. This information can come in a dizzying array of forms, including sensor readings, digitized plant and animal specimens, DNA barcodes, and observations to name just a few. 

All too often, however, this information gets separated from other data and research outputs collected at the same site. When incorporated into a museum collection or a peer-reviewed paper, the information may no longer be associated with the site in a standard way. Severing these links impoverishes the data and the places from which they were derived. Environmental data are stripped of possible significance in a manner similar to how archeological artifacts lose much of their cultural context when plundered from their sites of origin. Meanwhile, the places associated with the data, such as field stations, lose records that could be of significance to future researchers, and fail to receive recognition for their contributions to science.

The NRS has grappled with this long-standing problem in various ways over the years. Working with the California Digital Library, NRS Information Manager Kevin Browne established persistent identifiers to link data to and credit reserves as the source of data and information. More recently, UC Berkeley data scientist Collin Bode and colleagues have developed Dendra, a cyberinfrastructure service that displays a reserve’s automated data streams via a user-friendly dashboard.

FAIR Island Project
Dendra dashboard for the NRS’s Santa Cruz Island Reserve.

Dendra follows the FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) standard in its design. Dendra enables users to search for the data they want, makes buried data broadly accessible, delivers data products in formats that can be ingested by other applications, and as a result, these data can be reused to answer new and different science questions not possible to address if the data wasn’t accessible together. In other words, the FAIR Principles help make data in Dendra easy and attractive to use. This, in turn, encourages the dissemination of NRS sensor data in support of the “open science” movement to make scientific research broadly accessible to all. 

Only more recently, however, have these data-centric principles been extended into dimensions important to people and places. For example, the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance (Carroll et al., 2020) were developed to ensure the people who provided the data enjoy a collective benefit from the information and have the authority to control its usage. At the same time, those who gleaned the data are charged with the responsibility to care and safeguard the data, and must adhere to a code of ethics to use it.

FAIR Island Project
The FAIR Island Project is being piloted at the Tetiaroa Ecostation and the University of California Gump Station in French Polynesia.

In the same spirit, we as a team of data and information experts and field station managers have come together to translate the CARE and FAIR principles into practice at real-world field stations in the form of the FAIR Island Project. We have piloted our National Science Foundation-funded effort at two field stations in French Polynesia.  Both the Tetiaroa Ecostation, operated by the Tetiaroa Society on Tetiaroa Atoll, and the University of California Gump South Pacific Research Station on Moorea, are exceptionally well connected to international research networks, making them ideal test cases.

The FAIR Island Project has three primary components: (1) creating a place-based data policy with field stations; (2) creating data management plans (DMPs) for all teams that want to access the field stations; and (3) building links between pieces of critical research infrastructure through persistent identifiers. Together, these steps can establish a durable connection between field stations and the data they generate.

Both the Tetiaroa Ecostation and UC Gump Station utilize the NRS’s Reserve Application Management System (RAMS). To ensure seamless integration between the FAIR Island Project and station users, we have established a connection between RAMS and the DMPTool developed by the California Digital Library. Each research application submitted to the Tetiaroa RAMS portal now goes through this tool to create an initial DMP.  

The FAIR Island Project links data with place of origin 2
The Moorea Biocode Project has been able to associate UC Gump South Pacific Research Station and Tetiaroa Ecostation with a great deal more data, including people, publications, and datasets. The diagrams show information affiliated with these field stations (a) before the project; (b) after journal articles were added; and (c) after datasets were added. Image: Erin Robinson

In addition, we have taken a retrospective look to see how the FAIR Island Project can benefit past research. One example is the Moorea Biocode Project completed in 2010. We first tested the RAMS/DMPTool integration by creating a DMP for the project. We then linked people, funding, outputs, and the field station to this project.  

The FAIR Island Project seeks not only to increase awareness of work happening at the field stations, but also to accelerate place-based research for sustainable development. As the project’s creators, we want these two initial island stations to serve as a model for other sites that host intensive long-term scientific study. 

We now hope to engage with field stations in the NRS and elsewhere to provide additional use cases for the FAIR Island Project infrastructure. The NRS’s Santa Cruz Island Reserve is an early adopter. Reserve director Jay Reti has been exploring the use of the data policy and also serves on the FAIR Island Project Advisory Committee. Interested field station staff should visit our website ( or email us ( to learn more about our project and get involved. 

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