Outdoors, Science

Coastal Imaging Program Arms Experts with Tools to Protect Alaska’s Coastal Resources

Driftwood Bay near Seward, Alaska

ShoreZone.org Makes Coastal Images, Video Available to All

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA — Alaska’s extensive marine coastlines are important habitat for fish, marine mammals, and the communities that depend on ocean resources. The coastal fringe of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest is in constant flux due to erosion, sea level change, shifts in the nature of large storms, retreat of tidewater glaciers, landslides, and development projects. Observing and documenting detailed changes over large areas in some of the most remote places on Earth is increasingly possible using ShoreZone.org.

The user-friendly website is the public face of an innovative research partnership that has now imaged and mapped coastal habitats for all of Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and 92 percent of Alaska’s coastline. The ShoreZone Partnership includes scientists, GIS specialists, web specialists, nonprofit organizations, and provincial, state, and federal government agencies. The Nature Conservancy is the host for the ShoreZone website and provides the overall program coordination. The NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service provides the U.S. federal coordination and data distribution services.

ShoreZone.org is the go-to website to discover all things about ShoreZone, including access to the interactive tools for imagery and coastal habitat information. The list of ShoreZone users is too long to present here but testimonials have been received from cleanup crews responding to oil spills, boat captains seeking to pinpoint marine debris catcher beaches,

scientists who are investigating environmental change, educators not able to conduct in-person coastal fieldtrips, kayakers looking for a campsite – and the list goes on.

In 2016 the ShoreZone program contracted Coastal and Oceans Resources Inc. to image and inventory over 2,700 miles of remote and rugged shoreline in Alaska’s Eastern Aleutians, including Umnak, Unalaska, and Akutan Islands; the Alaska Peninsula; and the Semidi, Chirikof and Barren islands. Users can now “fly this coastline” online, viewing video and thousands of high resolution images showing these isolated sections of Alaska’s coastline. And it is all available free-of-charge from ShoreZone.org. The new survey of the Eastern Aleutians was funded by NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service. New surveys of the Alaska Peninsula and Semidi, Chirikof and Barren islands were funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council.

ShoreZone methods were first applied in British Columbia in the 1980s and in Washington in the 1990s.  In 2001, a ShoreZone program was initiated in Alaska that incorporated internet and digital technology to serve the data and imagery online.  These efforts led to a state-wide Alaska ShoreZone partnership, and ultimately coordination with and updating of the previous B.C. and Washington programs, and Oregon’s 2011 ShoreZone program.


The imagery and data has many uses including emergency management, tsunami risk assessment, search and rescue, planning coastal adventures, and even art exhibits. New uses are continually being discovered. “Utilizing the ShoreZone imagery and digital still photographs is an essential tool for resource managers and designing environmental studies for remote areas,” says Catherine Coon, marine biologist for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Susan Saupe, director of science and research for Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, explains the value of ShoreZone data. “We saw the advantages of having quick access to ShoreZone imagery and habitat data following the 2012 grounding of the Kulluk drill rig.  Our 2016 surveys have closed some key gaps along our coast, where the ShoreZone program can now similarly enhance future responses to vessels in distress in those areas.  We look forward to a time in the near future when the benefits of this program can be realized for every inch of Alaska’s coast.”

The imagery included within ShoreZone is highly complementary to traditional “down-looking” aerial and satellite image products because the photographs and video are collected at an angle, a viewpoint that allows vertical features such as sea cliffs, intertidal habitats, docks and buildings to be more visible.

“The Oil Spill Recovery Institute recognizes that the level of shipping through the Aleutian Islands represents a higher risk for oil spills,” says Scott Pegau, of the Oil Spill Research Institute. “This risk leads to the need for information on the biology and shorelines of the region. The ShoreZone mapping effort in this region is expected to provide spill responders with a snapshot of what to expect if they have to respond and provide a baseline of the coastal geomorphology and biology.”

ShoreZone Events in the Near Future:

A new documentary promoting ShoreZone in Alaska and its various uses, “A Coastline Online: ShoreZone.org,” previews this fall on 360 North. The documentary can be seen on 360 North on September 29, 2016 at 8:00 AM and 2:00 PM, at 360north.org/shorezone/ or on your local public television station.

The annual ShoreZone Partnership meeting is scheduled for October 12 and 13 at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage where partners will share more information about ShoreZone’s recent successes, plans for the future, and innovative applications. A full agenda can be found at shorezone.org.

See full PDF: Seward Driftwood Bay Press Release