The Blog Aquatic » maps News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Mon, 22 Dec 2014 12:49:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Spotted! It’s Whale Shark Season in the Gulf of Mexico Mon, 29 Jul 2013 17:30:28 +0000 Alexis Baldera whale shark

A whale shark swims at the West Flower Garden Bank in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: Ryan Eckert / Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

It’s prime time for spotting whale sharks in the Gulf of Mexico!

Whale shark sightings in the Gulf are recorded and tracked by the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi. According to their data set, 85 percent of sightings in the Gulf since 2002 have occurred from June to October and peaked in July.

Take a look at the map below from our Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: A Coastal and Marine Atlas to see where sightings have occurred in the past.

whale shark map from Gulf AtlasWhale sharks have been observed in groups of more than 100 individuals near a salt dome formation called Ewing Bank off the coast of Louisiana. Although whale sharks can be found in many seas around the world, aggregations this large are rare.

If you happen to have the fortune of spotting a whale shark, you can contribute to the ongoing effort to better understand this species by reporting it to the whale shark sightings database. Little is known about whale sharks’ distribution, movement and behavior in the Gulf, so tracking these animals can increase our understanding of their role in the Gulf ecosystem.

Each whale shark’s spots are unique and photos can be used to identify and track individual animals throughout their lifetime. If you plan to be on the water in the Gulf over the next few months, keep your eyes peeled for these gentle giants. Growing to over 45 feet, they are the largest fish in the world.

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The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: There’s a Map for That Mon, 24 Jun 2013 12:53:35 +0000 Matt Love Blue crab map from Gulf AtlasDo you know the Gulf of Mexico? Do you really know the wildlife that lives in its waters or how we use its resources—for better or worse—to support our economy?

I thought I had a grasp on this before beginning a multi-year project that mapped important things in the Gulf. Now that the project is finished, I know there’s even more to see than I knew about! Ocean Conservancy’s new tool, “The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: A Coastal and Marine Atlas,” can help you get a better view of the Gulf too.

The Gulf is a complex ecosystem full of an amazing diversity of wildlife and an abundance of resources. We need to know what lives in it and where it can all be found so we can protect, conserve and restore this beautiful natural treasure.

Gulf Atlas coverThe atlas is a unique collection of 54 maps and related descriptions that illustrate and describe where you will find many invertebrates, fish, birds and marine mammals in the Gulf. Among many other species, you can learn more about sperm whales, whale sharks, blue crabs (see map above) and black skimmers.

You can look at the physical characteristics, habitats and environmental stressors in the Gulf. Sea surface currents, bottom sediments, hurricane track density and all of the known locations of coral are shown in the atlas.

You will also be able to see how people use the Gulf for recreational fishing, shrimp trawling and major oil and gas development. The areas set aside for coastal and marine protection have been included as well.

Not only is this atlas a great resource for everyone to learn about the Gulf ecosystem, but it can also serve as an important decision-making tool for resource managers who are charged with balancing the ever-increasing demands on the ocean with conserving a vibrant and resilient ecosystem.

These maps and their related descriptions are also important tools to use as we plan for the unprecedented restoration programs that are beginning to develop in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. These restoration programs are an amazing opportunity to help improve the health of the Gulf.

It is important that the critical resources illustrated in the atlas are taken into account in order to develop the most effective and comprehensive Gulf-wide restoration projects.

Check out the atlas now!

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Are You Prepared for Hurricane Season? Wed, 29 May 2013 14:10:18 +0000 Carmen Yeung Hurricane Katrina


As most ocean lovers know, June 1 marks the official start of hurricane season. With torrential rains, storm surges and substantial winds, hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage to coastlines and several hundred miles inland, but you can increase your chances of safety by being prepared.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. The ingredients for a hurricane include a pre-existing weather disturbance, warm tropical oceans, moisture and relatively light winds. If the right conditions persist long enough, they can combine to produce the violent winds, incredible waves, torrential rains and floods we associate with hurricanes.

Hurricanes are an intense tropical weather system with well-defined circulation and maximum sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or higher. Major hurricanes have maximum sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or higher, which corresponds to Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Here’s an animation that illustrates wind damage associated with increasing hurricane intensity.

In the Atlantic, hurricanes can strike the U.S. coastline from Texas to Maine. The northern Gulf Coast from Texas to northwest Florida is the prime target for pre-August major hurricanes. The threat of major hurricanes increases from west to east as the season progresses, with major hurricanes favoring the U.S. East Coast by late September. Most major October hurricanes in the United States impact southern Florida.

Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico has experienced some of the strongest storms that have impacted the coast of the United States. From 1851 to 2010, there have been 1,589 tropical cyclones in the Gulf, 644 of which were hurricanes. Among them are Hurricane Katrina (2005), Hurricane Charley (2004), Hurricane Andrew (1992), Hurricane Camille (1969), the Labor Day Hurricane (1935) and the Galveston Hurricane of September 1900.

Tropical Cyclones map

Source: The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: A Coastal and Marine Atlas / Ocean Conservancy

The map above displays the combined paths of tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes that have occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. By understanding the patterns of tropical cyclone tracks and landfalls in the Gulf, environmental planners and risk assessors will be able to increase storm preparedness and minimize the loss of lives and property.

This map is part of a larger Ocean Conservancy project to provide tools to aid Gulf restoration efforts and improve the ongoing management of the Gulf ecosystem. Our full collection of maps, The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: A Coastal and Marine Atlas, will be debuting soon.

Be Prepared

As more residents move to coastal areas in the East Coast, people become more susceptible to the impacts of hurricanes: loss of life, extensive damage to coastal development and infrastructure (e.g., homes, industries and roads), and contamination of drinking water.

You can increase your own preparedness by following these tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):

  • Put boards or storm shutters over windows. Do not use tape since it doesn’t prevent the window from breaking.
  • Pick up small items in your yard, such as toys, tools and potted plants, and bring in outdoor furniture. In high winds, these items could slam into you or your windows.
  • Fill six 2-liter soda bottles or a large water container for each family member. The water from faucets may not be safe to drink.
  • Store at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food.
  • Make sure you have a flashlight and radio that run on batteries in case you lose electricity.

What measures do you take in preparing for and weathering through a hurricane? Share your tips in the comments.

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Video: America’s Ocean Economy: Challenges and Opportunities Fri, 24 May 2013 18:53:04 +0000 Guest Blogger

This is a guest blog post from Jennifer McCann, Director of U.S. Coastal Programs at the University of Rhode Island (URI) Coastal Resources Center and Director of Extension Programs for Rhode Island Sea Grant.

In Rhode Island and beyond, coastal communities are working on plans to manage the ocean’s resources in ways that generate new industries, support job creation, and provide food and services to an ever-increasing population.

This film is the first in a series that explores this effort with ocean practitioners from around the world and provides an overview of economic issues related to ocean planning. Over the coming weeks, I’ll share the remaining three films in the series, which focus on offshore renewable energy, fisheries and the environment.

The film series is supported by several funders and partners, including The URI Coastal Resources Center, Rhode Island Sea Grant, Ocean Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Marine Affairs Research and Education (MARE), the team behind Media firm Zygote Digital Films Inc. developed the series.

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Crowdsourcing the Ocean Floor: How Mariners Can Gather Valuable Information for Better Decision-Making Thu, 21 Feb 2013 16:40:48 +0000 Guest Blogger

Sea Tow vessels in Coastal New Jersey (left) and expeditionary cruise ships in Antarctica (right) provide insights where survey data or official charts do not exist.

This is a guest post from Paul Cooper, Vice President of CARIS USA and John Hersey, ARGUS Project Manager for SURVICE Engineering:

How is one sailboat captain helping improve maritime safety for all cargo ships and commercial fishermen?

By providing data to develop more detailed up-to-date, even up-to-the-minute, nautical charts.

As our demands for the use of the ocean increase, including for marine transportation, you might be surprised to learn that the most basic information for any mariner — bathymetry (or information about water depth and the sea floor) — is incomplete and outdated in many areas.

If a large metal object fell from a truck onto a road, we would notice it immediately. Yet if this occurred in a waterway, it might not be apparent until the object was struck by a ship, as happened in 2004 when a submerged anchor, not indicated on any charts, punctured the hull of the tanker Athos I and caused an oil spill in the Delaware River.

Marine transportation contributes more than $742 billion to the U.S. GDP and employs more than 13 million people. The National Ocean Policy specifically calls out its importance. However, many of the 25,000 miles of inland, intracoastal and coastal waterways that link thousands of ports and harbors in the U.S. have never been completely surveyed. This means there are limited accurate charts that show sandbars, underwater obstructions and other potential hazards that could cause accidents.

In those areas that have been surveyed, approximately half of the depth sounding data shown on U.S. nautical charts is from before 1940, collected by antiquated leadline soundings and wire drags.  To survey the 500,000 square nautical miles of the most navigationally significant waters would require over 100 years based on our governmental agencies current capacity and using modern conventional methods.

The good news is that while few ships have a primary mission to collect bathymetric data, there are literally millions of recreational, pilot and tug boats, cruise ships and research vessels plying our waters and we now have the technology to enlist their assistance to efficiently contribute to the goals of the President’s National Ocean Policy.

This is where ARGUS™ — and maybe you! – comes into the picture. In 2010, SURVICE Engineering started testing ARGUS, a system that can use these vessels for the collection and processing of crowdsourced bathymetry data. ARGUS interfaces with existing GPS and depth sounding equipment on the vessels, and uses wireless technology (WiFi, cellular, and satellite) for automatic offloading to a centralized server. Here along with CARIS, marine GIS experts, the data is corrected, processed, managed and distributed via the internet to provide current water depths. To date, ARGUS pilot testing has processed more than 70 million crowdsourced bathymetry soundings.

Crowdsourcing data – that is, gathering information from multiple individuals – can significantly supplement and enhance the accuracy and efficiency of standard hydrographic surveying efforts conducted primarily by governmental entities. During initial trials in 2012 aboard the vessel National Geographic Explorer, United Kingdom Hydrographic Office nautical cartographers were “delighted with the quality” of data collected when compared to existing raster charts in Antarctica.

This image is the result of ARGUS processing in the shipping channel into the Baltimore Harbor, where the green dots indicate shoaling (shallower water than the rest of the channel) in the inbound lane.

Crowdsourced data using technology such as ARGUS will often be the only data available in an area because charting authorities may not have the resources or mandate to conduct surveys. Also, their larger ships may not be physically able to access the areas where smaller vessels routinely transit. While traditional surveys are done infrequently, crowdsourced data is being collected all the time and can provide up-to-date information. When crowdsourced data indicates areas of concern (such as illustrated in the figure below) the official ships can prioritize those areas, thus maximizing efficiency by saving valuable ship time and the associated resources.

The challenge is to ensure the reliability of crowdsourced data by managing and structuring the process to ensure that it is reliable, useable and accurate.  The patent-pending ARGUS system developed by SURVICE Engineering is one such reliable process. The compilation of multiple transits through an area will provide statistical confidence in measured depths even using the less-than-survey-quality sensors found on most small vessels. The CARIS software provides us the ability to manage multiple data sets and variable resolutions of those crowdsourced data. This is essential to our ability to use this data to create depth charts as well as to ground truth bathymetric LiDAR or satellite derived bathymetry.

In addition to collecting and processing bathymetry soundings, the ARGUS initiative is also processing water temperature data, and additional efforts are underway to integrate information about water quality and other environmental data that can similarly enhance our understanding of our waters.

As some Regional Ocean Partnerships start to compile and collect information (to ensure the safety and maintenance of current ocean uses and plan for new sustainable development while protecting ocean health) systems such as ARGUS can be used to collect essential information in a cost efficient manner. Any willing mariner can contribute to a better understanding of the waters they transit.

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