Re-charting The Waters: Crowdsourcing To Navigate The Keys After Irma

Dec 28, 2017

It’s easy to see the effects of Hurricane Irma on land in the Florida Keys. But the impacts underwater were also significant — and may last longer.

“As most mariners know, Hurricane Irma left a path of change and some destruction underwater,” said Sarah Fangman, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. “Certainly, people who go out and dive and who are out in the channels are seeing changes.”

Some of those changes can affect the way people navigate the shallow waters around the Florida Keys.

So Navionics, a company that makes electronic navigational charts, is launching a project to get updated information from people who are out on the water in the Keys.

Starting Jan. 19, boaters can upload sonar logs so that depth changes can be recorded and charts amended. Those logs can be from any navigational system.

Boaters can also report marine debris and other navigational hazards.

The project is scheduled to last a month. Details on how to submit sonar logs are planned for posting at starting Jan. 4.

“This is primarily an industry and boater effort. But we really will benefit from it by gathering that information,” Fangman said. “For us to go out and do this ourselves would take a very long time. So by having all the mariners out there – there’s lots of folks on the water – crowdsourcing this type of information is a huge, huge help for us.”

Also important for the sanctuary is information about marine debris. That doesn't require a sonar log - boaters who see debris can mark it on the Navionics app, which is available free for a two-week trial.

"As boaters find a tree or a boat or a piece of a house, mark it on our app and then NOAA can find the location and clean up the debris," said Paul Michele, the company's national sales manager.

This isn't the first time Navionics has asked boaters for help re-drawing navigational charts after a storm. The first was in the Northeast after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 when "a lot of the channels changed and the sandbars changed," Michele said.