New strategic project to analyse port activity in Canada

MarineTraffic has teamed up with one of Canada’s largest post-secondary training centres to collaborate on a strategic maritime project.

The College of the North Atlantic and MarineTraffic recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will see GIS Applications Specialist (Post Diploma) students complete capstone projects in Mapping Canadian Port Vessel Densities using MarineTraffic data.

“We were talking to Dr. Bruce Hatcher, Chair of Marine Ecosystem Research at Cape Breton University and a professor at the Bras d’Or Institute, and he was interested in making a map of Sydney Harbour after they had dredged it. A dredge is when you cut a deeper trench so larger ships can get in,” said Darin Brooks, GIS Applications Specialist instructor.

Residents were worried the dredge would affect fish and the aquatic ecosystem so they sunk a number of artificial reefs and were monitoring how existing organisms were adapting to the physical changes.

“The project started with what the harbour looks like with the dredge, what the harbour looks like with the artificial reefs, and then we just started spit-balling a little bit. We thought ‘why don’t we put more on this map and make it more of a Sydney Harbour inventory?’, because I think this Sydney atlas has sort of been on Bruce’s plate for a long time. This isn’t just something that popped up. He was just waiting for the right partner to team up with to make this map.”

Through brainstorming sessions, they came up with the idea to measure how many vessels use the harbour.

“When we started talking about all of the things we could put on this map, one of the things to come up was vessel densities – or how the harbour is used by ships. Who uses the harbour? What type of ships use it and where do they go in the harbour and is there an overuse in areas, underuse in areas, where do they predominantly stop or port?”

While they felt it would be a cool map, there was one huge problem – it’s extremely data intensive and not only is the data big, it can also be expensive.

“As you can imagine, every ship that goes into the Sydney harbour is being tracked with GPS points so that data gets dense pretty quick. We had to find a way to get data on which ships came into the harbour, when and how long they stayed, and where they went so that we could create these maps of density.”

This became the focus of a student capstone project in 2015. The search for the data sources needed to create the map led to a company called MarineTraffic.

“They have offices all over the place like Greece and the United Kingdom, and this company has real-time tracking of ships all around the world,” Brooks said. “They know where ships are at any given time and also track where they have been. They have a long archive of this so this database is gigantic. We contacted them, asked if we could use some data, but of course the data is not free, it’s for sale.”

CNA students don’t have a budget for their capstone projects and that’s where the Bras d’Or Institute came in.

“Bruce bought a year of data to see how good it is, he provided it to us and we made the vessel density maps. We told MarineTraffic once we got the data we would keep them in the loop and they just loved it. MarineTraffic looked at the map, contacted us and asked to explore collaborative projects that further analyse operative profiles of ports and vessel traffic. We decided we should pinpoint a little bit, and decided to whittle it down to major Canadian ports.”

Port of Prince Rupert
Prince Rupert Port in Canada.

Brooks says they identified which ports they wanted vessel density analysis on, but he was worried about the associated cost of the data.

“My concern of course was we couldn’t afford to buy all of this data and MarineTraffic said, ‘let’s work together as a team, get students on board, and work collaboratively.’ They would provide us with the data and we’d do the analysis. It seemed too good to be true. It seemed like a really great partnership.”

The ship tracking company agreed, and it wasn’t long before a Memorandum of Understanding was in place for a partnership between MarineTraffic and CNA.

MarineTraffic Academic Relations Manager, Miluše Tichavska, says both parties have a lot to gain from this collaboration.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with CNA and contribute to a collaborative education (academic-industry) of its GIS post diploma students. For us, CNA is not only one of the largest post-secondary institutions in Atlantic Canada, but it’s proven to grow a desirable and efficient spatial-analytic skill set in its students. These should be key, not only in their professional future, but in ongoing and good collaborations with industry partners,” said Tichavska.

“For us, the identification of patterns, trends and complex interactions within the maritime world is part of our daily work. Therefore, we have no doubt of the mutual benefits that may come along while fostering relations with faculty and CNA students.”

The first 12-month project addressed within this partnership involves the use of anonymised MarineTraffic data in faculty and student-based academic capstone projects. MarineTraffic data sets will also be used as primary/secondary data set for teaching material (labs, assignments, and lectures). Collaborative deliverables include vessel density and port usage maps of Canadian ports. These will be jointly published, in due time, as a digital map series that disseminate student findings and automatic identification system-based maritime knowledge.

“Nothing like this currently exists and we are the first GIS program in the world currently in partnership with MarineTraffic to conduct this type of analysis,” Brooks said. “We came up with the pilot project and are doing Corner Brook port first because it’s local and we can use it as a proof of concept. Then we will move on and do as many ports as we can.”

GIS student Jane Goddard of Gibsons, BC will begin mapping the Canadian ports in January. She will complete the harbour density analysis and digitise the port infrastructure. In addition, MarineTraffic considers that an anchoring analysis to detail where ships anchor in each port, the types of ships using the port, and densities of the traffic lanes are also of great interest.”

“I am thankful for the opportunity to work on this project and I am excited to get started,” Goddard said, noting that her educational background is adding to her enthusiasm. “I have a background in marine biology, and I have a goal to combine the GIS skills I’m currently building with the marine environment in my career. This project will start me in the direction I would like to go, as well as give me experience to continue in that direction.”

Brooks expects they’ll be able to complete analysis for several ports before the end of the capstone project in June and he is looking forward to seeing the results of Goddard’s work.

“It is super cool data and it would be impossible to do without MarineTraffic. They’re the key to everything. I love the fact that there are places out there that want to be able to do research or be able to do pilot projects, but don’t really have the time or money to do it – but we have students that want to learn,” explained Brooks.

“These projects tend to be a little bit higher level and require a higher level of analysis so it’s really a win-win. The students get to get their hands dirty with real data, they have real work with real timelines (with only eight weeks to get this done) and they get to produce results that have an impact. It’s real data that people use to make real decisions. I just think it is a win-win.”

Since its founding, MarineTraffic has fostered a problem-solving approach that encourages academics and researchers to work together across fields, and institutional boundaries. The result is a holistic type of relationship that addresses broad and mutual needs and interests, from specific research projects and initiatives. MarineTraffic is interested in growing partnerships with leading academic institutions and industry members. Should your organisation be interested in such partnerships or projects, kindly contact [email protected]