In an attempt to improve environmental governance of Sumatra’s once-extensive tropical forests, a publicly accessible Web site showing detailed maps of widespread deforestation on the Indonesian island over the past few decades has just been launched. Scientists, government officials, and anyone else can log on to view the maps of the diminishing rainforest, which houses a diversity of tropical wildlife, including tigers, elephants, and orangutans.

The lack of free and easy access to reliable maps of Sumatran forests has limited Indonesia’s efforts to protect its natural heritage, according to David Gaveau, a landscape ecologist based at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, who designed the site. “Maps of tropical deforestation are generally not available outside of the scientific community and government agencies,” says Gaveau. “Well-informed public opinions oblige governments and corporations to take actions against illegal activities they may engage with, for example, illegal logging.”

The Web site uses Google Earth technology and satellite images to create interactive maps up to a scale of 1:150,000. (By: Claire Thomas)