Allowing for real time geo-tracking and identification of equipped vessels, data provided by AIS promises to map and describe maritime activities. After recapitulating the main characteristics of AIS and the data it provides, this article proposes to evaluate how AIS is currently used in MSP at a European level, and to concisely present a series of methods and results obtained within the framework of several operational research projects. The objective is to illustrate how the AIS data processing and analysis can produce adequate information for MSP such as maritime traffic density, shipping lanes and navigation flows, hierarchical networks of maritime routes, alleged fishing zones and spatio-temporal interactions between activities (potential conflicting uses or synergies). The conclusion looks at the legal questions concerning the use of AIS, discusses the use (importance - limits) of such data for MSP, and identifies research and development perspectives.
Questions this practice may help answer
- How can Automatic Identification System (AIS) data be used for MSP?
- How is AIS currently used in MSP at a European level?
- What is AIS and how does it work?
- What kind of data is provided by AIS and how can it be accessed?
Since 2002, the Automatic Identification System (AIS) has been undergoing major developments. Allowing for real time geo-tracking and the identification of equipped vessels, the data from AIS promises to map and describe maritime activities. AIS is currently used in the vast majority of countries that have adopted official maritime spatial plans.
Aspects / Objectives
The objective of this study is to illustrate how the AIS data processing and analysis can produce adequate information for MSP, including maritime traffic density, shipping lanes and navigational flow, hierarchical networks of maritime routes, alleged fishing zones and spatio-temporal interactions between activities (potential conflicting uses or synergies). It also aims to study the legal questions concerning the use of AIS, discuss the use of such data for MSP, and identify research and development perspectives.
Main Outputs / Results
A review of maritime spatial plans in Europe show that AIS contributes to implementing an integrated maritime policy. Its main advantage lies in the role it plays in highlighting maritime traffic, with the possibility of doing so by vessel type and time of year. It enables position or trajectory density maps to be established, on condition that special care is taken to make them easy to interpret correctly by non-specialists. Maps can show the main shipping lanes in conjunction with quantitative data to highlight the main navigation flows. A hierarchical network of maritime routes can also be highlighted. Even if AIS is not regarded as the reference data source in this field and does not concern all vessels, this type of data can potentially be used to describe sea-fishing activities.
As satellite AIS is currently being developed, one of the major benefits is potentially having access to this type of data on a worldwide scale. Through the examples given, the study shows that this type of data can be exploited both at a global (e.g., Mediterranean sea basin) and local level, for specific fields of application (e.g. evaluating anchor dragging risks with a view to installing submarine cables). As it inherently includes a time factor, it provides a dynamic view of activities taking place, in keeping with the reality of this open and shared space. Combined with other spatialized information (e.g., regulations, surveys, observations, etc.), AIS could also contribute to qualifying and quantifying spatio-temporal interactions between activities over different time periods. This assists in assessing the risks of use conflicts in a marine space. Lastly, AIS can also be crossed with other data (vessel characteristics, cargo type, type of fishing gear, etc.) to produce new and richer spatialised indicators.
Integrating AIS data into maritime space information systems is an advantage and clearly provides further means for delivering objective and relevant information to promote dialogue within a marine spatial planning context. Despite current technical and legal obstacles pointed out in this study (specific knowledge required to handle such AIS data, not all boats are equipped with AIS,…) today AIS data offers promising perspectives for both implementing MSP and evaluating the cumulative pressures and impacts, with the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive (Directive, 2008/56/EC) in mind. With a view to developing a forward-looking spatialised approach based on scenarios, simulation prototypes based on multi-criteria (environmental, legal, socio-economic) modelling and on integrating AIS data may be used to predict the effects (positive, negative or neutral) on maritime traffic of introducing a new activity (e.g., MRE).
This study applies to all sea basins.
Matthieu Le Tixerant