Need to report a large piece of debris blocking a waterway along the coast?
There’s an app for that.
Doing his part to help clean up debris in the marshes of the Low Country, a student at the College of Charleston has designed a new smartphone program that allows boaters to report any abandoned vessels or large debris to state officials.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) estimates there are about 70 to 75 abandoned boats along the South Carolina coast, with new ones constantly being discovered.
Dylan Murphy said he’s seen many of them and believes the current rules for a boater to report debris are too difficult. “Basically, you’ve got a paper form that you’re supposed to fill out while you’re on a boat. They’re assuming you’re going to have a GPS unit and a digital camera,” he said, “And then the worst part is when you’re done boating, they’re assuming you’re going to be able to get that back to your computer.”
Murphy said “Clean Marine” — a new app for iPhones and Androids– will allow a person to fill out all the necessary “paperwork” with just a few minutes on their phone. Once switched on, the app asks the user a series of questions. The person can then use the phone to take a photo and record their GPS coordinates. It only takes a minute and, once completed, the information is transmitted to the authorities. If the user is in a place with no internet access, the phone waits until they get back within range before transmitting.
A Beaufort native, Murphy said he got the idea after attending a meeting for volunteer marine debris spotters program. While listening to marine officials walk through the many steps involved in filling out a report, Murphy said he noticed most of the people in the room had smart phones. The computer science major (at the time) wondered if he could make the process easier.
He is now working towards a Master’s in Environmental Science. He created the app as part of his thesis.
Right now, there are up to five different agencies that are responsible for removing abandoned watercraft. If a boat is leaking oil or other chemicals, the U.S. Coast Guard steps in. The state Department of Natural Resources is responsible for clearing any debris blocking waterways, while DHEC’s Oceans & Coastal Resource Management is responsible for removing any abandoned vessels. The Sea Grant Consortium and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are also involved in mapping out where the vessels are located.
So far, the app has already been downloaded over 100 times, according to Android Market.
DHEC has just begun asking citizens for help in identifying abandoned boats in the past year. The agency says budget cuts are forcing it to rely more on the public for help. “We have far less ability to get a lot of enforcement staff out on the water for routine patrols,” program director Dan Burger said, “So we’ve really been trying to leverage the eyes that are out on the water on a daily basis.”
Earlier this year, the state legislature gave local governments the ability to move abandoned boats. The boat’s owner is supposed to pay for its removal, but it is often difficult to prove a person has title to a boat.
Murphy said he hopes the app will result in a more accurate picture of the number of abandoned vessels in state waters. He hopes that will convince lawmakers to set aside more funding to clean them up.
He said he hopes to eventually create more software programs that are designed specifically for environmental use.