The Digital Coast

More than half of all Americans, 153 million people currently live on or near a coast and an additional 12 million are expected to move to the coasts over the next decade. Yet despite this population density and economic magnet, much of the 95,000 miles of U.S. shoreline does not have current, accurate maps and geospatial information. Moreover, much of what does exist pre-dates the 1970s.

Of Americas major ports, harbors and shipping areas, there is a 26,000 square nautical mile backlog that will take some 15 years to accurately update with current maps. Given recent natural disasters along our coastlines, including Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina and manmade events such as the Gulf Coast Oil Spill, the need for spatial data about our coasts is critical to emergency preparedness, emergency response, coastal assessments, conservation, and economic growth.

In 2009, Congress enacted Public Law 111-11 creating an integrated oceans and coastal mapping (IOCM) program. This language required the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to develop a plan to acquire, disseminate, establish standards and provide services in connection with various types of geospatial data.

A digital and geospatially enabled view of the Nations coastlines has been recommended by the U.S. Oceans Commission, the Pew Commission, as well as several National Academy of Sciences reports, all of which have emphasized the need for surveying, charting, remote sensing, and geospatial data of Americas coasts, harbors, ports, shorelines, and ocean resources.

A sustainable Digital Coast program would provide business opportunities for private sector LIDAR, bathymetric and hydrographic surveying and mapping firms. MAPPS supports a program that would improve coordination and identify geospatial priorities; promote best practices when applying geospatial data for coastal decision making; and contract for the collection and creation of quality non-navigation feature data sets to include: shoreline change, satellite and aerial imagery, benthic habitat mapping, shallow water bathymetry, and submerged aquatic vegetation.

Currently, NOAAs Coastal Services Center (CSC) operates a Digital Coast program without any guarantee of Congressional appropriations. Spanning from fiscal year (FY) 2007 through the end of FY2012, the Digital Coast program totaled just $5.4 million.

MAPPS anticipates a bill to authorize a Digital Coast program will soon be introduced in U.S. House of Representatives. The Digital Coast Act will coordinate the pooling of resources from multiple agencies and other stakeholders to map the various needs once, and then utilize and the data and products numerous times. The intent of the bill is to expand on the existing NOAA efforts and codify the program into law, thus sustaining the program to provide business opportunities and a platform to more efficiently and effectively collect and disseminate data benefiting the citizens that live and work in our coastal regions.

About the Author

Nick Palatiello

Nick Palatiello... is the assistant executive director for external affairs at MAPPS, where he oversees and supervises all communications with outside audiences. He also serves as the manager of state chapters; over sees the day-to-day operations of chapters and assists in the development of new chapters.
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