First up, improving charts and geodesy for Straits of Florida
Coast Survey welcomed Cuban colleagues to NOAA offices this week, as representatives of Cuba’s National Office of Hydrography and Geodesy (ONHG) traveled to Maryland for the first time since last December. In March, NOAA and ONHG signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Havana.
“We’ve identified a broad sweep of navigation issues for collaboration, and we’ve started to produce tangible results,” said Dr. Russell Callender, assistant administrator of NOAA’s National Ocean Service, at the start of three days of work sessions. “On behalf of NOAA, I’d like to express my appreciation for the progress made by our two agencies.”
The MOU, which is focused on improving maritime navigation safety and related areas of mutual interest to protect lives and property at sea, is the framework for continuing consultations between NOAA’s National Ocean Service and ONHG.
“The collaboration between our two countries is the way to move forward,” said Dr. Candido Alfredo Regalado Gomez, chief of Cuba’s National Office of Hydrography and Geodesy. “We are here to work.”
Among other hydrographic discussions, representatives from both agencies will review, revise, and hopefully approve a planned new international chart (INT chart 4149), the first cooperative charting product between the United States and Cuba during the modern era. NOAA expects to release the new chart in mid-December, at a meeting in Brazil of hydrographic officials from the Western Hemisphere. The chart covers south Florida, the Bahamas, and north Cuba, a popular area for both recreational boaters and commercial mariners.
The publication of the new international chart, along with alignment of U.S. and Cuba electronic navigational charts, will resolve many navigational issues as vessels move across the shared maritime border.
In addition to charting, the U.S.-Cuba dialogue has expanded to include an emerging geodetic component. NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey will discuss current datums (North American Datum of 1983 and North American Vertical Datum of 1988) and plans to transition to new datums by 2022. Discussions include both geometric (latitude and longitude) and geopotential (vertical coordinate referenced to Earth’s mean sea level) issues.
Representatives from both agencies have expressed additional interest in tide and current monitoring, modeling, and forecasting. The exchange of data and information will improve the accuracy and quality of these products, as closer direct dialogue between Cuban and NOAA hydrographic offices promises to improve navigation safety in the Florida Straits, the Gulf of Mexico and the wider Caribbean.
Following up on Coast Survey’s visit to Havana last spring, Cuban hydrographic officials traveled to Maryland on December 15-17, to meet with NOAA National Ocean Service leaders for discussions about potential future collaboration. High on the agenda for Coast Survey is improving nautical charts for maritime traffic transiting the increasingly busy Straits of Florida.
The historic meeting began with Dr. Russell Callender, NOS acting assistant administrator, welcoming the Cuban delegation, led by Colonel Candido Regalado Gomez, chief of Cuba’s National Office of Hydrography and Geodesy.
“You will receive briefings today as a backdrop to the hydrographic collaboration we are pursuing to make maritime navigation safer in the transboundary waters our nations share,” Callender told the group. “I hope your meetings this week in Silver Spring will contribute to your understanding of the breadth and work of NOAA firsthand, and strengthen our work together.”
The five Cuban officials and representatives from NOAA’s navigation services and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency worked through the day, explaining the ins-and-outs of each other’s responsibilities and processes. The teams were ready, by the end of the jam-packed agenda, to resolve charting challenges that interfere with smooth navigational transitions from Cuban waters to U.S. waters in the busy Straits of Florida.
First, Cuba’s Office of National Hydrography and Geodesy and Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division confirmed the division of responsibilities and updated each other on the progress for collaborating on international charts (known in mariner’s parlance as “INT Charts”) 4148, 4149, 4017, and 4021. Then, in a technical move sure to please recreational boaters and commercial mariners alike, the two countries conferred on adjusting Cuba and U.S. electronic navigational charts to eliminate overlaps and gaps in coverage.
By examining adjacent and adjoining ENCs, both sides were able to confer on ways to improve chart coverage in the busy Straits of Florida, where chart misalignments can play havoc with navigational systems as a vessel moves across maritime borders. Countries around the world regularly resolve these issues, as the U.S. does with Canada and Mexico, through regional consultations hosted by the International Hydrographic Organization but, until now, the U.S. and Cuba were unable to work together on their common set of challenges.
Coast Survey initiated the charting discussions earlier this year, when a team of cartographic professionals traveled to Havana in February for three days of meetings with Cuban officials from the Office of National Hydrography and Geodesy and GEOCUBA. During the visit, the Americans and Cubans agreed to work together on a new international paper chart, INT Chart 4149, which will cover south Florida, the Bahamas, and north Cuba. The Office of Coast Survey is now creating the chart, using data supplied by the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office and the Cubans in addition to U.S. data, and plans to publish the new chart in 2016.
This week’s charting progress follows closely on another major accomplishment. Last month, NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan and Dr. Holly Bamford, acting assistant secretary of conservation and management, traveled to Havana to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Marine Protected Area cooperation between our two countries. The agreement provides an opportunity for the U.S and Cuba to develop science, education, and management programs between sister sites in both countries, and will strengthen our collaborative relationship.
“The Cuban maritime industry, like many U.S. ports, is building new infrastructure to support commerce and tourism,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of Coast Survey. “Like us, they are improving their charts as port and coastal uses evolve, to support expanding maritime commerce.”
“We are now able to work together, as we do with other nations, to coordinate chart coverage and data acquisition.”