Since 2002, the United States Coast Guard has collected data on maritime vessel traffic through the Automatic Identification Systems (AIS). It was designed as a system that would identify where a ship was in the present moment, not as a historical record of traffic and routes. Access to the latter has become increasingly important in an ocean-dependent “blue economy” that boasts multiple uses that depends on complex decision-making. The challenge—and opportunity—lay in taking AIS data and finding a way to integrate it into easily accessible information as a resource to all who are invested in keeping the ocean working.
It took a team of data scientists from various agencies including NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management and the Marine Cadastre to work with the Coast Guard to develop a special process to turn over 10 years of AIS data into maps that were compatible and fully integrated with the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Data Portals. That treasure trove of information on the data portal gives the maritime community and decision-makers a clear, simple tool to visualize vessel traffic in the region.
Ocean users now have access to maps that track long-term shipping activity, something that had never been available before. Today, this is amongst the most highly used maps on the data portals. It is helping drive new conversations by allowing ocean users to note potential areas of conflict. For example, it aided the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Coast Guard to site potential offshore wind development leases with a minimal disruption to shipping routes along the East Coast. It has also improved navigation and safety into busy ports thanks to information on elements like commercial fishing routes and recreational boating densities. Last but not the least, the data on seasonal and yearly trends of ship traffic is also helping ocean users with invaluable insights into future trends and growth.
Chris P. Scraba, Deputy Chief, Waterways Management, Homeland Security, United States Coast Guard
“We protect people on the sea, we protect the nation from threats given by the sea and we protect the sea itself from an environmental stewardship perspective. You can see right away that the prosperity of our nation is inextricably connected to maritime commerce and the safe flow of this commerce into these ports. Ocean planning fits very well with the Coast Guards approach; it’s critical for the Coast Guard and other agencies work together in a collaborative manner to ensure the maritime transportation system is safe, secure, efficient and resilient to continue to bring this large volume of cargo into our ports.”
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Photography by Coast Guard News (background)