App makes Alaska coastal data available offline

  • Uyak Bay in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is seen in this ShoreZone image. The app CoastView allows users to explore Alaska’s coast with images, narration and history while offline. (Photo/Courtesy/ShoreZone)
  • Tigalda Island in the eastern Aleutians is seen in this ShoreZone image. The app CoastView allows users to explore Alaska’s coast with images, narration and history while offline. (Photo/Courtesy/ShoreZone)
  • The CoastView app takes images and information from ShoreZone and pairs it with some narration of the coastline and points of interest, and makes it all available without an internet connection. (Image/Courtesy/CoastView)
  • Lituya Bay in Southeast Alaska is seen in this ShoreZone image. The app CoastView allows users to explore Alaska’s coast with images, narration and history while offline. (Photo/Courtesy/ShoreZone)

An Anchorage-based group of entrepreneurs is trying to make it a little easier to learn about Alaska’s coastline with a new app.

CoastView, which launched last spring, relies on the high-quality, publicly-available coastline imagery produced through the ShoreZone endeavor.

ShoreZone provides public access online to a coastal map that includes several elements: high-resolution photos, videos, and data on the biology and geomorphology of the coast. CoastView takes that information and pairs it with some narration of the coastline and points of interest, and makes it all available without an internet connection.

The offline access is what spurred Amalie Couvillion and her colleagues to develop the app.

ShoreZone was originally brought to Alaska to support oil spill response planning in Cook Inlet, and later spread to include most of the state’s coastline and support a wide-variety of uses, from coastal monitoring to education.

Couvillion helped with some of that expansion while working at The Nature Conservancy, one of the organizations involved in the project. She loved the data set ShoreZone offered, but the fact that it was only available online felt like a limitation. Eventually, she decided to leave the nonprofit world to focus on developing that offline access with two other individuals.

It took about a year, but the team eventually launched the app for iPad and iPhones. Through late July, it had about 500 installations.

Couvillion collaborated with developer Mario Pilz and coastal ecologist Carl Schoch, who worked on ShoreZone as well, to develop the app.

“There was a lot of testing and a lot of figuring out how to make it work,” she said.

As they worked on the offline access component, Couvillion said they realized that they wanted more information to go with the imagery.

“In addition to seeing these images, you can read or listen to points of interest along the way,” she said.

The app will narrate everything from geographic features to fun facts.

“It’s kind of like a Milepost for the sky,” she said, referring to the popular Alaska travel guide.

In addition to being an option for air travel, the group is targeting cruise ship passengers as a top audience that might want to download it and take a listen while traveling Alaska’s waters.

The app isn’t just for tourists, though. Couvillion said she’s learned new things while listening to the narration, including about lighthouses and even legendary lake monsters.

She’s also learned of possible new uses for the app since it launched, like charter fishing guides who could use it as a way to check out new spots and coves, and see how navigable they are, because the coastal images were all captured at extreme low tides.

And user George Beringer, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, said he just enjoys exploring Alaska from his home.

He’s used the CoastView app to explore Alaska remotely — and in the process, has fallen in love with the land.

“The aerial perspective and excellent resolution are captivating,” he wrote in an email.

Beringer said that he initially was looking at the eastern Aleutians, but has since explored much of Alaska virtually, including Unalaska, Cold Bay, Sand Point, Nome and other communities.

“It is very user friendly,” he said. “I recently finished a book about the Bering Expedition which identified their landing site as Kayak Island. I stopped reading and looked up ‘Kayak Is.’ to get some idea of what the terrain would have looked like. I enjoy spreading out my map of Alaska and then picking out sites to view on the CoastView app.”

Transitioning out of the nonprofit world can be a challenge, but Couvillion said that her 20 years at The Nature Conservancy actually helped prepare her for the project.

That particular nonprofit had an entrepreneurial bent, with support for innovative ideas that advanced conservation ideals, so she was already in that mindset somewhat. And while Anchorage isn’t a tech hot spot, Couvillion said her team found ample business resources in the Anchorage entrepreneurial community.

“There’s so much passion in the community to get things going, especially in this economy,” she said.

Couvillion said specific resources, like the Small Business Administration, and the One Million Cups group, were very helpful. She also felt supported by other entrepreneurs.

“I’ve had a lot of encouragement from people,” she said.

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Molly Dischner can be reached at medischner@gmail.com.

Updated: 
08/16/2017 - 12:32pm

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