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Recovery Funds Help Maritime Navigation

Locke making speechCommerce Secretary Gary Locke (right) recently announced $40 million for critical hydrographic survey and chart projects across the United States that strengthen the economy, create jobs, and support safe and efficient marine commerce and trade. Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, NOAA Office of Coast Survey (OCS) contracts for surveying projects cover almost 2,000 square nautical miles.

“With an eye towards growing America’s sea freight industry and creating new blue jobs in the future, these funds will enable NOAA to hire private companies to conduct 39 surveys,” Secretary Locke said at an announcement event in Norfolk, Virginia, on August 20.

Explaining that “our waterways are facing unprecedented demands from maritime commerce,” Locke declared that “this investment is critical.”

The recovery funds double the area covered by contracted hydrographic surveys this year.

Efficiently moving goods into and throughout this country is a cornerstone of America’s economic viability, and the marine transportation system is an essential component of the globalized freight network. Waterborne cargo contributes more than $742 billion to the nation’s economy and creates employment for more than 13 million people. Between 2010 and 2020, the value of freight carried in and out of U.S. ports is predicted to increase 43 percent.

“Much of our knowledge of our seafloors dates from eras when ocean commerce was more limited, when our ships were much smaller,” said Locke said. “Parts of Alaska’s coastal terrain haven’t been mapped since Captain Cook in the 1700s.”

“The information we gather hundreds of feet below the ocean’s surface today will provide us with the data we’ll use to balance the fragile ecosystem with the competing demands for coastal ‘ocean space’ for navigation, alternative energy, and other commercial purposes,” Locke pointed out.

Captain Barnum and Sec LockeOCS Director Captain Steven Barnum (left), the U.S. National Hydrographer, explained why updated charts have been essential to marine navigation through the ages.

“Hydrographers, from centuries ago until today, use the nautical chart to tell mariners where there is safe water. We tell them areas to avoid,” he explained. “Back in the 16th century, charts showed the location of ghoulish monsters, ready to devour complete vessels. Today, we search for our own monsters – the undiscovered underwater geologic formations, shifting shoals, the debris from storms and hurricanes, and any other danger to the safe transit of commercial and recreational mariners.”

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is managing the projects. Surveying began in June and will continue through the fall and beyond, covering maritime areas on the two coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico. When complete, these projects will have charted nearly 2,000 square nautical miles in the Chesapeake Bay, and in the coastal waters of Alaska, Washington, California, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, and Virginia.

Some of the areas were last surveyed over 70 years ago, using lead lines to determine depths.

Surveying firms conducting the work are based in Alaska, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.

More information on funded projects nationwide is available on the NOAA Recovery Act website.

For more information:
Department of Commerce press release
Remarks by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
National Ocean Service Announcement
Captain Steven Barnum's full ARRA Marine Navigation Projects Announcement

The hydrographic survey projects funded by ARRA are:

Alaska – $5.3 million – Seven surveys cover 674 square nautical miles (SNM). These surveys encompass Unimak Pass and shipping safety fairways. This critical area experiences high levels of commercial shipping between the Pacific Northwest and Japan, with about 3,000 ships transiting annually. Surveys here will support safe navigation, protecting sensitive ecological resources and coastal tourism from the devastating effects of maritime accidents.

Washington – $1.3 million – Four surveys cover 34 SNM. The surveys in Puget Sound encompass an area west of Tacoma and Commencement Bay that was last surveyed in the mid-1930s using lead line measurements. This project supports the efforts of the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health and the Puget Sound Partnership. Data gathered during the survey will support safe marine transportation and characterize marine habitats. Coastal managers can also use the information to select appropriate sites for renewable energy projects and to monitor the effects of climate change.

California – $3 million – Four surveys cover 112 SNM. These surveys in the approaches to San Francisco Bay area contribute to the California Seafloor Mapping Project, a multi-year partnership to develop the first comprehensive and seamless maps of California’s seafloor and marine resources. The data acquired in this project will enhance efforts to manage marine ecosystems and coastal resources, to identify obstructions to navigation, and to better understand the California coast’s unique natural hazards.

Louisiana – $7 million – Seven surveys cover 441 SNM. The surveys are located offshore Terrebonne Bay, where most of the soundings in the area were collected prior to 1936 using lead line measurements. The area contains a high concentration of oil and gas production platforms and their associated pipelines. The fleet of supply vessels supporting the oil and gas production, as well as the fishing fleet who navigate these waters, require more accurate, up to date information.

Florida/Alabama – $3.4 million – Three surveys cover 104 SNM. These surveys encompass the safety fairways, anchorages and approaches to Pensacola. The areas were last surveyed between 1970 and 1991, but they have been impacted by several hurricanes since then. This project will address concerns of shoaling in the area. U.S. naval ships, coastal shipping vessels and fishing vessels navigate these waters regularly, and their safe transit requires more accurate, up to date information.

Georgia/Florida – $3 million – Five surveys cover 148 SNM. The Brunswick (Georgia) port is expanding after recent dredging operations and shippers need new surveys of the area; naval submarines transiting the area need hydrographic updates. The hydrography will update the charts to minimize the chance of ships striking Right Whales. The surveys will also benefit commercial and recreational fishermen who monitor bottom terrain in the survey areas.

Virginia (Atlantic) – $4.1 million – Four surveys cover 219 SNM. Most of the charted soundings in this area were collected prior to 1939, using lead line measurements. Coastal shipping vessels navigate through these survey areas frequently, and their safe transit requires more accurate, up to date information.

Virginia (Southern Chesapeake Bay) – $4.3 million – Five surveys cover 125 SNM. Some sections in this busy area have not been surveyed since 1939. An increase in marine commerce (transporting liquefied natural gas in particular) and recreational boating makes this a critical area for NOAA. The area is biologically productive and surveys will contribute to marine habitat characterization and continuing research needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Additional ARRA funds ($8.24 million) are allocated to data collection activities supporting the development of nautical charts and coastal planning.

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