NOAA surveys for recreational boat traffic safety in Tampa Bay

NOAA’s navigation response team 2 (NRT2), homeported in Fernandina Beach, Florida, conducted a survey around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which spans Tampa Bay. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and additional members of the Tampa Bay Harbor Safety Committee requested the work and expressed interest in establishing alternate routes for recreational boating traffic. Alternative routes will alleviate increasing congestion where the main ship channel passes beneath the bridge. This area is naturally restrictive to navigation and, as a result, there have been multiple accidents and near accidents here in the past.

Multibeam echo sounder coverage. Credit: NOAA
Multibeam echo sounder coverage. Credit: NOAA

Lt. j.g. Patrick Debroisse from NOAA Research Vessel Bay Hydro II installed a topographic lidar system on NRT2, which marked the first time a lidar system was employed from an NRT boat. The lidar system enabled 3D data to be collected for those portions of the bridge that are above water line. NRT2 collected lidar data for associated bridge protective structures and two fixed light range towers in addition to the bridge and bridge supports.   

The accurate positional and dimensional information gleaned from this data will be used to compliment extensive hydrographic sonar data collected beneath the surface. Together, the complete data set will enable full consideration of area features, both above and below the water line, in determining the placement of alternative routes.


The center spans of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (left) were successfully captured from lidar data (right). Photo credits: NOAA
The center spans of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (above) were successfully captured from lidar data (below). Credits: NOAA

A USCG approval decision is anticipated in the spring. If approved, the chief of the cartographic team will work to have the alternate routes added to all affected NOAA charts.

The NRT2 team consists of James Kirkpatrick (team lead), Lucas Blass, and Howie Meyers. NOAA’s NRTs operate trailer-able survey launches to provide time-sensitive information during emergency response and maritime incidents such as vessel groundings, sinkings, or cargo loss. The launches are equipped with multibeam and side scan sonar, which can help identify navigation hazards and mitigate risk to life and property.

The largest scale raster navigational charts of this area, charts 11415 and 11416, are available online.

NOAA survey teams wrap up response to Hurricane Isaac, return to normal duties to protect ships and people

As Gulf ports in the path of Hurricane Isaac bring operations back up to normal, Coast Survey’s navigation response team has finished its hydrographic surveys at Port Fourchon and is heading back to its regularly scheduled 2012 survey of the sea floor in the Port of Houston and Galveston Bay navigational areas.

Port Fourchon started allowing ships to enter the port yesterday, after NRT4 found only minor shoaling and no underwater debris that would pose a danger to navigation.

NOAA surveys ports to keep navigation safe and efficient. As Coast Survey’s navigation response team was wrapping up its surveys of Port Fourchon and Belle Pass on August 31, the pilot of the multi-purpose supply vessel HOS Achiever, inbound, asked if they found any dangers to navigation. The team found minor shoaling but no hazards.

Upon receiving Coast Survey’s initial survey report yesterday, Port Fourchon executive director Chett Chiasson thanked the navigation response team and managers for support in this recovery. “Your immediate availability following the hurricane, being some of the “first” people in, goes above and beyond the call of duty,” he wrote. (See full text of Chiasson’s letter to NOAA Administrator, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, below.)

The navigation response teams and managers responded quickly, and under difficult circumstances, but we need to emphasize that they responded safely. Ensuring safety for NOAA response personnel is as high a priority as establishing safe conditions for the maritime transportation system.

The National Geodetic Survey’s Remote Sensing Division used the NOAA King Air and the NOAA Twin Otter to gather imagery for the response to Isaac. The crews of NOAA remote sensing planes consist of two NOAA Corps pilots from the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, with NGS experts operating the sensors. (Images from the remote sensing survey are being posted to Hurricane ISAAC Response Imagery Viewer.)

Coast Survey’s navigation managers are returning to their stations in port areas across the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. They remain available, as always, to provide NOAA asset coordination and assistance to government officials, port representatives, pilots, and the maritime industry.


Sent to Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator, August 31, 2012

Subject: Thank You to NOAA for the Service to the Nation and to the Gulf’s Energy Connection, Port Fourchon, Louisiana from Hurricane Isaac

Dr. Lubchenco:

I would like to recognize the huge effort of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey to respond in such a timely and critical way to our needs at Port Fourchon to respond to Hurricane Isaac and to recover our Port Operations as quickly as possible.

Every day, almost 30% of America’s supply and consumption of energy comes from the Gulf of Mexico. Port Fourchon is the single most important supply Port in the Gulf.  The preparations for a hurricane and recovery of the Port is critical to this Nation in re-establishing the supply of domestic energy from the Gulf.  Delays and loss of operations by the Port can have dramatic impacts to energy supply of this country and create large economic impacts throughout the United States.

The eye of Hurricane Isaac came directly over the Port and we saw widespread flooding throughout the area and of our only access road to the Port, Louisiana Highway LA-1.

The day the hurricane started to move from the area, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey Navigational Response Team arrived in our offices, discussed the needs of our Port and headed to the Port that morning.

NOAA’s Coast Survey Navigation Response Team was the first responders to arrive and reach Port Fourchon. They and our Harbor Police made it through flooded highways and arrived to start work before anyone else. They worked through yesterday and today surveying the entire Port and it’s Pass, Belle Pass and are now in our Operations Center processing the work and have been constantly updating me and our Port staff throughout.

With a very large hurricane and coastal impacts we saw, you quickly find out who are the real responders and partners with the Port and the Gulf. For us, it is NOAA and the Office of Coast Survey.

Our commendations and thanks to you and to the Office of Coast Survey. Their service to us and the Nation is truly exemplary.



Chett C. Chiasson, MPA

Executive Director

Greater Lafourche Port Commission