ICAN is a project of UNESCO IOC´s IODE Programme, and ICAN members seek to play a leadership role in forging international collaborations of value to the participating nations, thereby optimizing regional governance in coastal zone management and marine spatial planning.


We live on a blue planet, with oceans and seas covering more than 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface. Oceans feed us, regulate our climate, and generate most of the oxygen we breathe. Some 37 per cent of the world's population lives within 100 km of the coast. (UNEP)


CWAs are "...collections of digital maps and datasets with supplementary tables, illustrations, & information that systematically illustrate the coast, oftentimes with cartographic & decision support tools, all of which are accessible via the Internet."  O'Dea et al., 2007


Membership in ICAN is open to all interested parties who agree to the mission & objectives of ICAN, including those with an operational coastal web atlas, as well as those hoping to design and build a coastal web atlas in the future.
Join us!

¡Únete a nosotros!

GSDI Association Marine SDI Best Practice Project Update

Roger Longhorn,
Secretary-General of the GSDI Association and member of the ICAN Steering Group
Esta dirección de correo electrónico está siendo protegida contra los robots de spam. Necesita tener JavaScript habilitado para poder verlo.

The GSDI Association has part-funded a two-year research project focusing on identification of developments in Marine Spatial Data Infrastructures around the globe. The project began in November 2015 and extends into 2017. The project proposal and work plan grew out of research carried out by Dr Jade Georis-Creuseveau of LETG-Brest Geomer (UMR 6554 CNRS), UBO, Institut Universitaire Européen de la Mer, Plouzané, France, as part of her PhD research programme in 2014 and 2015. The project co-leaders are Dr Joep Crompvoets of KU Leuven and Secretary-General of Euro SDR and Roger Longhorn, Secretary-General of the GSDI Association and member of the ICAN Steering Group. The research so far has conducted a survey of national coastal and marine geoportals mainly in Europe. KU Leuven and LETG-Brest are both GSDI Association members.


 Table 1. Geoportal Characteristics

 URL of the Web site of the geoportal
 Year of first implementation
 Geographical distribution
 Language(s) used
 Number of web references measured with the ‘
 Number of data suppliers
 Monthly number of visitors?
 User feedback mechanisms
 User technical assistance mechanisms
 Data themes
 Number of datasets
 Level of openness for data access
 Standard metadata
 Data searching mechanisms
 Data access services
 Functionalities supporting MSP/ICZM process and decision making
(e.g. indicator computation, barometer, report tool, scenario development …)
 Interactive functionalities enabling a high level of interaction among coastal/marine users
(e.g.  participation, wikis, e-forum, virtual workshop)
 Data and metadata submission functionalities


The research conducted so far includes a Web survey to assess the developments of existing national marine and coastal geoportals for SDIs or similar Web services. The initial Web survey led to an inventory of 35 national operational geoportals. For each geoportal, 12 characteristics were identified (see Table 1 below) and measured in November 2014, March 2015, and November 2015 in order to monitor current developments. Based on the preliminary survey results, four types of geoportals were distinguished: Atlas-like, Hydrographic Office, Oceanographic/Marine Data Centre, and Hybrid geoportals.

The Survey

The survey focuses on geoportals implemented by national public bodies in Europe enabling access and use of geographic data related to marine and/or coastal zones. The term “data” encompasses a broad range of items such as real-time observations, time series data, GIS data layers, digital maps, etc.

In November 2014, 121 geoportals were assessed from 72 coastal countries (48 % of the total number of coastal countries). Of these, 24 geoportals were not operational at that time (20%), 7 failed to work during the period of the survey (6%), 39 were considered to be out of the scope of the survey (32%), and 51 were implemented by national public organizations providing access to coastal and/or marine spatial data (42%)

These geoportals are implemented by 27 countries. With the exception of major maritime countries (USA, France, Australia, Canada) that manage several geoportals (from 4 to 5), the large majority of the countries have only one or two geoportals.


The first step of the survey was to establish a typology to guide the ongoing analysis of the different characteristics of the geoportals. The comparison of characteristics 4, 6, 8 and 9 (Table 1) suggests a typology for the following four types of geoportal: Atlas-like, Hydrographic Office, Oceanographic/Marine Data Centre, and Hybrid geoportals.

Atlas-like geoportals

Within the framework of the IOC IODE International Coastal Atlas Network (ICAN) Project, a coastal web atlas (CWA) is defined as “a collection of digital maps and datasets with supplementary tables, illustrations and information that systematically illustrate the coast, often with cartographic and decision support tools, all of which are accessible via the Internet” (O'Dea et al., 2007). This type gathers the 7 geoportals of national atlases of the ICAN network together with 8 other Atlas-like geoportals (29% of the total number of surveyed geoportals). From these 15 geoportals, 7 managers responded to the survey.

Hydrographic Office Geoportals

The second type includes 10 geoportals (20% of the total number of surveyed geoportals) that are mainly implemented by national Hydrographic Offices, organizations which are historically devoted to surveying and charting seas, oceans and navigable waters for purposes of maintaining safety of life at sea. From these 10 geoportals, 4 managers responded to the survey.

Oceanographic/Marine Data Centre Geoportals

In the third category, 18 geoportals were identified (35% of the total number of surveyed geoportals). They correspond mainly to National Oceanographic Data Centres (NODC) and other Marine Data Centres. The NODCs have been progressively implemented by the IOC’s International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) since the 1960’s. At the European level, the NODC and other Marine Data Centres have been gathered in the SeaDataNet network, a Pan-European network providing on-line integrated databases since the end of the 2000’s. From these 18 geoportals, 4 managers responded to the survey.

Hybrid Geoportals

In addition to the geoportals classified into the first three types, 8 geoportals (16% of the total number of surveyed geoportals) were identified as Hybrid geoportals sharing the characteristics of the types above. From these 8 geoportals, 2 managers responded to the survey.

Data Characteristics

The analysed geoportals provide various digital data within diverse domains including administration (69%), physical (82%), biological (71%) and human (45%) aspects. They combine reference data as well as business data.

Atlas-like geoportals provide a large diversity of data themes describing administrative (100%), physical (93%) and biological (87%) aspects (e.g. marine biology, biodiversity, etc.) of the coastal and marine zones along with human uses (100%) (e.g. pollution related topics, tourism, etc.).

Data Policy

Regarding data policy, 71% of the analysed geoportals provide free access for anyone. The remaining geoportals provide free access only for registered users or by using request forms (59%), or provide access subject to fees (27%). “Free access” is associated with the fact that the data are covered by intellectual property rights and that the commercial use of the data is mostly not allowed without prior explicit agreement with the geoportal manager. Registration allows user access to additional functionalities, such as online map saving and saving search requests. User registration is also required to ensure that users agree with the Geoportal Data Policy and gives geoportal managers insights in the users and their data requirements.

Although personal registration may be required for the portal (27%), access to the data of the Atlas-like geoportals is mostly free for all (100%). Access to the products of the Hydrographic Office geoportals is fee-paying (100%) and 60% of these geoportals offer also free data. For the Oceanographic/Marine Data Centre geoportals, the data are accessible through a request form or for registered users (89%) and free for all (44%). For the Hybrid geoportals, the data are mainly freely accessible for all (88%) or through a request form (88%).


The technology component is defined by mechanisms for searching and accessing, functionalities supporting MSP/ICZM process and decision making, interactive functionalities enabling a high level of interaction among coastal/marine users and the data and metadata submission functionalities.

Searching for spatial data on a geoportal can be done through different mechanisms: catalog interfaces (75%) allow searching by means of keywords, production time, data theme, providers, etc.; map interfaces (90%) for locating an area of interest or by clicking on an area with predefined boundaries and a list of products in hypertext (53%). Data access from the geoportals is provided in different ways, including downloading services (69%), OGC web services (29%), data transmission via e-mail or FTP (29 %) or data purchase from certified distribution agents (24%).

To consult the data, the user of the Atlas-like geoportals has mainly access to map search mechanisms (100%) and catalogue interfaces (73%). Data access services are mainly based on downloading (87%) and OGC services (53%).


This component is characterized by the number of data suppliers, the monthly number of visitors, the number of unique visitors per month, the number of web references on Google, the language(s) used, the user feedback mechanisms, the user technical assistance mechanisms, the main geoportal's target, the main current users, the current satisfaction level of the users, the mechanisms to assess the users’ satisfaction and the mechanisms to involve users.
On the suppliers’ side, the number of data suppliers is not available for 61% of the geoportals investigated. Based on available information, 35% of the surveyed geoportals have less than 50 data suppliers, regardless of the types of geoportal.

Preliminary Conclusions

Preliminary results suggest that European developments are still underway for geoportals enabling users to access various types of data concerning coastal and marine zones. These types of data and mechanisms were stable between November 2014, March 2015 and November 2015, or slightly increasing.

Despite the integrated approach promoted by ICZM and MSP concepts and related regulations, the results indicate that platforms allowing access to a wide range of data related to marine, coastal and land territories are not commonly found. True data harmonisation and services interoperability, which are the underpinning principles for SDIs, need to be improved.

The main limitation of the survey concerns the fact that some information needed for assessment is not available online. The research continues with a further questionnaire being sent to the geoportal coordinators in order to assess real usage of the geoportals.

The proposed geoportals coordinators’ survey can be extended to geoportal users in order to analyze what they do with the data in their day-to-day responsibilities and what are their needs. The combination of these approaches (geoportals, coordinators’ and users’ survey) should contribute to a Multi-View Framework in order to assess SDIs and their ability to match the sustainable approach to the management of the coastal zones, oceans and seas.

HELCOM map and data service updated – enhanced system for making available assessment data products and underlying data

Joni Kaitaranta and Andžej Miloš, HELCOM Secretariat


HELCOM (Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission - Helsinki Commission) is the governing body of the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, known as the Helsinki Convention. The Contracting Parties are Denmark, Estonia, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden. HELCOM works to protect the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollutions through intergovernmental cooperation. HELCOM is a regional sea convention (RSC) for the Baltic Sea and policy maker for the Baltic Sea area by developing common environmental objectives and actions. One of HELCOM’s task is to act as an environmental focal point providing information which requires GIS web mapping tool for providing information and data used in assessment carried out by HELCOM.

HELCOM Map and Data service (HELCOM MADS) was designed to fulfill that requirement and first version was developed in 2010. During 2016 a project was launched where resources were made available to completely renew and update the tool that was reaching the end of its life-span. 

Requirements and use cases

Fundamental requirement for tools used in making available data stems from HELCOM Monitoring and Assessment Strategy, which contains attachment of Data and Information Strategy. The strategy sets out following guiding principle: The HELCOM data and information activities should facilitate access of the general public to environmental information. This includes requirements for various thematic datasets ranging from in-situ monitoring of eutrophication, biodiversity and hazardous substances related data to more aggregated data products on status of marine environment, nutrient loading and trends and overview of maritime traffic related activities.

HELCOM Contracting Parties that are also EU Member State have obligation stemming from Marine Strategy Frame Work Directive (MSFD). The Directive requires coherence and coordination within regions and makes possible reference to assessments/data that is done by Regional Sea Conventions. This sets requirements in relation to data products being made available on regional level and according to INSPIRE Directive.

Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) requires also regional coordination and coherence of plans across the region and between neighboring countries. According to the MSP Directive, plans should be harmonized across the region and this requires regional level work and agreement on data harmonization. Spatial data should be also spatially very accurate and up-to-date to be useful in the planning process.

According to HELCOM data and information strategy, the target group for information and data products should be also general public / decision makers. This sets a requirement on complexity of information and terms used for displaying results. This purpose sets a requirement to be able to pinpoint to a specific aggregated and simplified map product in the service.

Technical solutions

HELCOM MADS is based on two user interfaces, which are seamlessly interlinked:

Each dataset has a unique ID, which is used to link a record in the metadata catalogue with a dataset in the map viewer. Linkage is done by including ID in the map viewer and metadata catalogue URL. At anytime user can switch between two systems: to view dataset in the map viewer or read metadata and download dataset in the metadata catalogue (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Visualization of a dataset in the map viewer (left hand side) and metadata record in metadata catalogue (right)

Map and Data service viewer is based on datasets stored in file Geodatabases and published in ArcGIS Server (10.6.1). The Map viewer user interface is developed by HELCOM Secretariat using ArcGIS API for Javascript. The source code for the map viewer part can be found at GitHub under GNU General Public License v3.0:

The main features of map viewer (Figure 2) are:

  • Searchable table of contents
  • Linkage between to metadata catalogue, accessing datasets and features via URL
  • feature identification
  • Attribute table widget
  • Widget to add WMS services (from predefined list and custom)
  • Ability to query features with URL parameters

HELCOM Metadata catalogue is an application of Geonetwork and utilizing INSPIRE compatible metadata template with GEMET thesauri. The metadata catalogue contains following features:

  • Search feature for metadata records titles and content
  • Downloadable content of each metadata record


Figure 2. Screenshot of HELCOM Map and Data service map viewer. On the left hand side searchable table of contents, at the bottom extendable attribute table widget and right hand side legend widget

Para nuestras Costas

Newsletter, Vol, 8, Nr 1 - Now Available!

We are now entering our 8th year publishing the ICAN newsletter. Many thanks to our Editor Andy Sherin!

Please consider preparing an article for the next newsletter that will likely be published in the fall of this year.
Happy New Year!

Photos from CoastGIS 2018

Our friends from CoastGIS 2018 have posted a wonderful gallery of photos, including the recent ICAN mini-workshop:

See how many ICAN members you can spot!