Thousands of people flocking to the area’s extensive coastline this summer will notice boats cruising the waterways while displaying bright messaging from expansive LED screens.
What they won’t see is an innovative technological array attached to the navigation systems that map the seafloor and collect invaluable data.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) scientist noted that “we know less about the ocean floor than we know about the surface of the moon and Mars” when describing the Seabed 2030 project. Ballyhoo Media has partnered with the International SeaKeepers Society to help mitigate beach erosion, rising sea levels and degradation of coral reefs through the program.
The collaboration is part of the ambitious United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development initiative. Ballyhoo’s boats will soon begin mapping local beaches, and Vice President Nate Shapiro described the need in a prepared statement.
“Addressing the ocean’s ecological challenges without accurate data is like trying to sail through a storm without a compass,” Shapiro said. “The presence of our fleet of digital billboards is strong in South Florida, which puts us in a unique position to make a substantial contribution to this critical data collection effort.”
As of May, researchers have only mapped about 25% of the ocean’s floor. Agencies participating in the Seabed 2030 project are working to reach 100% in seven years.
While Shapiro was unavailable for comment, Helen Roldan, director of public affairs, explained how protecting waterways and supporting communities is in the company’s DNA. As its website notes: “It’s kind of our whole purpose.”
“We’re primarily an advertising platform – but the advertising gets to subsidize all of the environmental initiatives that we have going on,” Roldan said. “We’re not the experts; we’re not the scientists. We really just take direction from the people that know more than we do.
“If this is the information that is useful, that’s our goal.”
In 2016, Ballyhoo launched “from a love of the water” in Miami. It also operates in Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa Bay, and local boats began cruising from Clearwater to St. Pete Beach and up around the St. Petersburg Pier in 2021.
The marine advertising startup has incorporated a “10% For the Water” initiative since its inception. Roldan explained that the company dedicates 10% of its digital billboard space to highlighting nonprofits dedicated to protecting waterways.
Team members also volunteer with local groups like Tampa Bay Watch, and have distributed the organization’s oyster reef balls. The mollusks living in those miniature artificial habitats – often made of recycled porcelain from old toilets – can each filter up to five gallons of seawater every hour.
“Beyond that, we do cleanups, and we invest in different technologies that actually help while we’re on the boat,” she added.
International SeaKeepers officials approached company leadership with a proposition at a recent ocean cleanup event. While Ballyhoo is increasing its environmental technology and water testing efforts through its Blue Beacon initiative – launched earlier this year – the environmentalists noted the company could immediately impact the mapping project through its onboard navigation systems.
Roldan relayed that Ballyhoo’s captains are uniquely suited to discern seafloor deviations as they continuously operate in the same areas. Their boats store gathered data on SD cards and officials upload the vital information every two months.
The Nippon Foundation and General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) support the project, which fills research gaps, identifies unknown hazards and aids mariners.
“Everywhere that we operate, the water is directly tied to the economy,” Roldan noted. “People are not going to come to Miami Beach, or the Tampa Bay beaches if the water is dirty or if there are issues. So, protecting those natural resources is absolutely critical. I mean if not, we don’t have anyone to advertise to.”
Adam Shapiro, president of Ballyhoo Media, called the new partnership “the beginning of something remarkable” in a prepared statement. “We take pride in being one of the few commercial boating companies actively working towards ocean sustainability every day,” he added.
In addition to environmental efforts, Ballyhoo’s leadership continues working to support the local business community. The company is part of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, and Roldan relayed that company officials – who visit frequently – quickly realized the difference between Miami and St. Petersburg.
She said that while Pinellas County is home to “big cities” like St. Pete, residents value and work to maintain that “small-town feel.” After realizing the area’s unique vibe and culture, Ballyhoo adopted a hyperlocal advertising program.
That is now a company focus, and Roldan said officials work with the chamber to provide small businesses with discounted rates.
Roldan noted that Ballyhoo is also working to strengthen community ties through a new initiative. While company officials will announce the details “shortly,” it is a grant program that will provide free advertising for small businesses.
“We’re not successful if the communities we operate in are not successful,” Roldan said. “For us, it’s a no-brainer.”