Mapping of seabed around Cayman Islands underway as part of GBP1 million UK project

The content originally appeared on: Cayman Compass

The oceanic floor around all three Cayman Islands is being mapped by international geo-data specialists as part of a GBP1 million project across the Overseas Territories and the United Kingdom, the Ministry of District Administration and Lands has announced.

The exercise, which began on 12 Nov., is expected to be completed by the visiting experts no later than 21 Nov., depending on weather conditions.

Over a five-day period, the visiting specialists will operate a Partenavia P68 aircraft, flying as low as (approx.) 1000 feet above land and covering a survey area of 382km2 on Grand Cayman, 70km2 on Cayman Brac and 62km2 on Little Cayman, the Ministry release stated.

Governor Martyn Roper, through the statement, said he was pleased that as part of the Cayman Islands/UK partnership agreement on climate change and the environment, the jurisdiction will benefit from the UK Government’s Overseas Territories (OTs) Seabed Mapping Programme.

“This GBP1m cross-OT project looks to reduce risk to the environment, life and vessels in the OTs’ waters, help support compliance with international maritime obligations and support development of blue economies. My thanks to the Ministry of District Administration and Lands for their continued cooperation with the UK Hydrographic Office who are taking this work forward here in the Cayman Islands,” he added.

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(Left to right) Pilot-Mitchel Kirne, L&S Director-Jon Hall, MDAL Acting Chief Officer-Wilbur Welcome with Fugro Specialists-Richard Goosen, Dennis Tobin & Mark Archer. The team stands next to the aircraft prior to takeoff. -Photo: Submitted

The majority of the available hydrographic map data for the Cayman Islands is over 140 years old.

“The UK Hydrological Office (UKHO) has committed to provide all OTs with up-to-date nautical charts for navigational purposes. The main purpose of the survey is to map the seabed to identify the topography – hills, valleys, outcroppings and other details that can be hazardous to shipping and the safety of life at seas,” the statement added.

Department of Environment Senior Geographic Information Systems Officer Jeremy Olynik, who is responsible for generating all of the various maps and support data DoE teams use in their work, welcomed the international assistance.

“This is a very exciting project for the Cayman Islands as it is the first detailed mapping survey of the nearshore shelf environment ever completed. It will benefit the work of many government agencies, as well as the public that enjoy the shallow waters around our islands. The accuracy of this data will be incredibly beneficial to the DoE when mapping and visualizing marine benthic (seabed) habitats,” said a post on the DoE’s Facebook page.

Olynik said perhaps the most useful product of the seabed mapping survey is that the existing charts will be updated and recreational boaters will have access to detailed depth maps that will greatly assist in safe navigation.

DoE’s Senior Geographic Information Systems Officer Jeremy Olynik. -Photo: DoE

“We are very appreciative of the UKHO in collecting this data and making it available to the Cayman Islands. The fact that the survey, completed by Fugro, is the first near carbon-neutral bathymetric LIDAR survey completed is a great bonus as well,” he said.

He said, with the data from the exercise, “We will be able to model portions of the reef in 3 dimensions to increase our understanding of specific areas and the data will support the many other projects we undertake in the marine environment”.

“This seabed depth data, along with existing terrestrial LIDAR elevation data, will also be integral in completing detailed storm surge modeling facilitated by Hazard Management Cayman Islands,” he added.

The statement highlights how HMCI’s access to “spatially referenced data products” will support risk assessment for improved storm surge analysis.

Premier and Minister for Sustainability and Climate Resiliency Wayne Panton welcomed the announcement of the mapping exercise.

“Given the existential climate related risk of sea-level rise across the Caribbean region, I am very delighted that HMCI under the Ministry of Sustainability of Climate Resiliency, will also benefit from the seabed mapping survey. This initiative further contributes to this Government’s efforts to prioritise action to tackle the climate crisis and will be an integral part of the overall Climate Change Risk Assessment previously announced,” he added.

Lands and Survey Director Jon Hall talks with Fugro specialist about survey equipment. -Photo: Submitted

Director of Lands and Survey Jon Hall, in the statement, said the mapping data also has maritime value.

“The data collected will be used by UKHO to create new, accurate Admiralty shipping navigation charts for Cayman waters. These will be available for purchase for commercial shipping and private boating purposes from authorized outlets approved by the UKHO. Lands and Survey and the Port Authority will hold copies for operational purposes,” he added.

For her part, Minister for Lands, Hon. Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, said the data collected will make an impact on these islands.

“This seabed mapping project further equips the Government to formulate plans on how this asset can be developed and used for the betterment of all residents of the Cayman Islands,” she said.

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