FLORIDA KEYS — Weeks after Hurricane Irma hit the Florida Keys, the ocean bottom was stirred up, underwater visibility remained low and reports of large trees, telephone poles, railroad ties and massive mangrove root balls bobbing in the nearshore waters were common.
The full extent of how different things are below the surface remains largely unknown, but a collaborative initiative taking place later this month aims to give insight.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is partnering up with Navionics, a company that provides digital chart navigation, to remap the Florida Keys’ sea floor, and they’re asking for input from local boaters.
“By working together, the remapping initiative will improve boater safety in these areas,” Navionics said in a press release.
Paul Michele, national sales manager with Navionics, says boaters can help by removing the SD memory card with their sonar log data from their GPS, load it into their computer and upload the data to the company’s website.
“Or if they have Wi-Fi, they can do it from their boat,” he said.
Michele said that logging marine debris is crucial.
“We take that data from everywhere and combine it to make a better chart. One of the more important things is to chart the debris, so NOAA can go and remove it so it’s safer for everyone.”
The updated charts will include coastline corrections and notices to mariners, and should be available about two weeks after the project closes on Feb. 20.
Navionics charted changes in the coastline along the northeast after Superstorm Sandy hit in 2010.
“After Sandy hit the northeast, there were a lot of changes. There was a lot of debris and a lot of new sandbars. Boats were getting stranded all over the place. We helped make the waters more navigable and that’s what we are hoping to do here,” Michele said.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Sarah Fangman encourages local boaters to participate.
“We support Navionics’ idea and need the help,” she said. “This is an intensive undertaking and for us to do that alone is time consuming and difficult. If we can tap into the information provided from the boating community, it’s a great opportunity.”
Fangman said her agency hasn’t been able to do a comprehensive sweep of the area after the hurricane but confirmed that there was a lot of movement of the sea bottom and a lot of settling.
“The changes are very dramatic on land, and we see similar patterns underwater with the most
impacts to the Middle and Lower Keys,” she said. “In Key Largo and Key West, damage is minimal. We’ve also seen that the biggest impact has been on corals and sponges.”
According to Fangman, there were also changes to some archaeological resources. The storm revealed new parts of some wrecks and buried others. NOAA’s archaeologists are still surveying resources.
“The anchor at Carysfort Reef, which is from the 1700s, was reburied during the storm. It’s a 12-inch-wide wooden stock which is still intact. The ring on top of the stock, we think is hemp lashing and that it lasted this long because it was buried,” Fangman said.
For a short time right before the hurricane, it was uncovered.
For boaters who wish to participate in the month-long project, Navionics will provide daily updates, including new chart updates for a year. Their names will also be put into a drawing to win boat-related giveaways.
Starting Thursday, Jan. 4, complete event information, sonar logging, uploading instructions and official rules will be available at navionics.com and at participating West Marine locations.