- Associated Press - Sunday, July 20, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A program originally brought to Alaska to support oil spill planning and response efforts in Cook Inlet has since expanded to most of the state with uses from coastal monitoring to art and education.

The coastal mapping endeavor ShoreZone’s Alaska debut was as a Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council pilot project in 2001. Now, about 80 percent of Alaska’s coastline is mapped including Southeast Alaska and the North Slope.

ShoreZone provides public access to a coastal map that includes several elements: high-resolution photos, videos, and data on the biology and geomorphology of the coast.

“Having the biology and the geology together is a robust data set,” said ShoreZone’s Darren Stewart, who works for The Nature Conservancy as a coordinator among the various partners.

In addition to oil and gas uses, the database is valuable for Coast Guard search and rescue operations, researchers doing reconnaissance and selecting sites, marine debris cleanup efforts, and recreation planning such as planning kayak trips and looking for safe landing spots for boats, Stewart said.

“Being able to see an area before you get there saves a lot of time and money and resources,” Stewart said.

This summer, the National Marine Fisheries Service is funding the next step in mapping Alaska’s coast - about 2,500 miles along the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta shoreline from Cape Newenham to Emmonak, including Nunivak Island.

That work will be done in two surveys in July and August, and cost about $300,000. NMFS is the primary funder this summer, but the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge will provide various services like fuel drops, lodging and other logistics support, Stewart said.

A private contractor, Coastal and Ocean Resources Inc., or CORI, collects the data that feeds into the maps. A biologist and a geomorphologist will ride in a helicopter along the coast, taking video and shooting still images, and narrating along the way.

Generally, the team will follow the same standardized protocol that has been used throughout the state - including doing the work when there are the lowest tides and the most light.

“They want the entire coastline from the lowest of the low waterline to the supertidal zone,” Stewart said.(backslash)

In some places, additional information is collected based on interest - for instance, a baseline hydrocarbon study was done on the Nort Slope.

Later on, mappers will listen to the narration and use the imagery to create maps in units. That can take several months, and depends on funding, Stewart said.

Eventually, the database that’s built allows for queries about a variety of things - where logs are likely accumulate, whether a stretch of coast has pebble or boulders or a sandy beach, and the habitat there, said CORI’s John Harper, who has been involved with the project since it started in British Columbia.

CORI has done all but one of the surveys in Alaska, according to Stewart, and funding has come from a variety of partners - about 30 to 40 organizations have been involved at one time or another.

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