UltraMAP Shona Connelly

UltraMAP Inside Out. Part 3 of 3.

‘UltraMAP Inside Out’ is a raw, fly-on-the-wall look at UltraMAP in early 2021. An insightful and honest three-part story, ‘UltraMAP Inside Out’ is a revealing first-person view of this globally category-leading brand as seen through the eyes of Shona, UltraMAP’s young Commercial Officer.

In a business world filled with over-honed marketing messages, chest-beating and grand claims, how refreshing it is to read about a brand filtered only by the fresh mind of a relatively new team member.

Here’s how Shona Connelly, Commercial officer at UltraMAP diarised a period of her time with the global category-leading UltraMAP team early in 2021.

Marine Protected areas (MPAs). Why these areas exist.

Did you know there are protected areas of the ocean? And by protected, what do I mean? Protected from what?

So, let’s start at the beginning.

An MPA is an area of ocean protected by governments for a particular reason. An example of this is the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef ecosystem, therefore there is a need for it to be protected from being damaged.

The ultimate goal of MPAs is to achieve long-term conservation of marine life.

Since the 1970’s the UK’s seas have been under tremendous pressure of overfishing, oil exploration and pollution. By the 1980’s and 90’s cod nearly became commercially extinct in the North Sea and hundreds of dolphins and seals were being washed-up on shores around the UK.

At this time, there were only 3 MPAs in the UK. Something had to change and the Wildlife Trust made it happen.

Now, there are 91 MPAs in the UK seas. This is because of an increased awareness of what’s underneath sea-level and why there is need to protect them.

Writing this, today (early 2021) was the day I found out there are coral reefs around the UK oceans. Interesting!

There is lots to still be done though as these MPAs need to be monitored and managed, ensuring the most dangerous activities don’t take place in those areas.

Maybe, just maybe, there might be room for where we can help.

We’ll see!

Niagara Falls.

UltraMAP don’t just look after subsea assets such as subsea cables (power, telecommunications etc).

When people look at our business, they often assume that we only work with subsea assets, and that’s not correct.

There are various different projects we work with.

Firstly, the one you may be aware of is the work we do with offshore windfarms. We monitor activity around the sites while the turbines and export cables are being installed.

But, one that you may not know of is the work we do at Niagara Falls.

Power companies have been using hydro-electric power from Niagara Falls since the 1880’s. The water flows from The Great Lakes over Niagara Falls.

In the winter, these lakes can freeze over. This creates a barrier to successful waterflow down the river and over the Falls.

Before 1962 there was no such thing as an “ice breaker” in the Niagara River, and the majority of the ice would go over the edge of the falls and plunge into the river below. The ice would often fuse together, creating an ice bridge up to 40 feet in thickness.

So, in the beginning they used tug boats who were working on nearby projects to help clear the ice blockages. But these weren’t as successful as they would’ve liked.

Plus, the ice breakers the American and Canadian government already had, were too big to enter the Niagara River.
So, they built smaller versions by modifying tug boats.

They use our software (AssetMonitor) to monitor their own vessel locations to make sure the ice breakers either don’t go over the edge of the Falls, but to also track shallow waters that the ice breakers should avoid.

Cables Don’t Live Forever.

We all know that our phone chargers break, our headphones can snap and our electronic wires just stop working. Instead of getting them repaired and fixed, most of the time we just buy a replacement.

Is this the same with subsea cables?

Let’s find out.

Subsea cables have an approximate lifespan of 25 years. That’s probably the most trustworthy cable I’ve ever come across.
That’s because they need to be.

So why do they only ‘last’ 25 years? There’s the possibility of cables being damaged. This isn’t just through vessels anchoring onto the cables, environmental issues can come into play. The cables can encounter corrosion and abrasion from being on the seabed floor.

But, there’s also the chance that the life expectancy of the cable is mainly due to the technical performance lifespan.
The cable itself can reach 100 years old and still be there and useful.

That’s because cables have multiple layers, even the core itself is made up of multiple layers of steel wire, copper and nylon.
The core is then covered in outer protection layers. Depending on where the cable is laid, the thickness of protection changes.
If the cable is in shallow waters, it requires enhanced protection. “Why is that?” You may ask…

Well, cable damage and incidents predominantly occur near the shoreline.

That means they need to be thicker in diameter to ensure the fibres in the core are protected. If they aren’t protected, they can be damaged easily. If they’re damaged, that means no internet! So, how do the cables get to the bottom of the sea?
I’ll walk you through the laying process next!

How are subsea cables laid?

On average, the depth of the ocean is around 12,000 feet.

So how do the cables actually get that deep down?

The subsea cables are laid using specially-modified ships. These ships carry approximately 12km worth of subsea cable depending on where the cable is going to go.

Depending on where the cable will be buried, there are different processes as to how that will happen. Close to the shoreline, the cable will be buried under the sand using drilling techniques, for example.

In shallow waters, where fishing is prominent, the cable is buried under the soft seabed to protect the cable from fishing gear.

In hard bottom areas, the cable will be armoured as damage could still occur in the areas in which the cable cannot be buried.

The part of the cables which would be located in the deepest parts of the ocean, are not buried under the seabed. These are the parts of the ocean which are 12,000 feet deep. There is little to no risk of the cable being damaged in this area.
As a company, UltraMAP can be supportive throughout this process.

Vessels in the location of a company laying a subsea cable may be aware that they need to steer clear, there is always circumstances where some vessels do not know.

This is where our monitoring team can help. If a vessel looks as though they’re unaware, to ensure no issue occurs our team can communicate to that vessel what is going on in the area.

Thank you.

So there we go. These insights were explored and documented in early 2021.

My role as Commercial Office at UltraMAP is really interesting! I am encouraged to ask as many questions as possible by Martin – so I do. And this three-part article is my way of exploring what I learn thoroughly and, hopefully, presenting my learning in a way that’s enjoyable and insightful for you too.

Thank you for reading.


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