When Hurricane Irma rolled across the Florida Keys this fall, it wasn’t just the motels and marinas, Tom Thumbs, stilt houses and shell shacks strung along the island chain that got slammed.

Underwater, the storm pushed around massive amounts of sand, uncovering ancient reefs and burying some closer to its path. Some channels got filled, others reconfigured. Buoys that marked navigation or provided moorings for boaters got ripped free— some 800 alone in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary will need to be surveyed. Debris, from boats to fence posts to propeller-snagging utility lines, created new underwater hazards.

Navigation, never easy among the mud banks and seagrass flats or maze of islands, took on new challenges.

Boats are wedged under a bridge in Marathon in the Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma.

Mike Stocker TNS

Now the Sanctuary that stretches from the north end of Biscayne Bay to the Dry Tortugas is teaming up with the boating industry to undertake the daunting task of mapping the changes. Beginning Jan. 19 through February, the Sanctuary is asking boaters to report changes to Navionics, an Italian company that produces navigational charts. Navionics also helped chart changes in the northeast after Superstorm Sandy.

“We cannot get all the information we need by ourselves. So we need to work with partners,” said Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Sarah Fangman, who oversees a staff of less than three dozen, including a six-man buoy team responsible for about 2,800 square miles.

For mariners, changes after a storm are par for the course, but Irma was a rare Cat 4

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