Ocean Exploration Trust 2020 Expedition

Exploring the marine ecosystems of the West Coast Region

NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is teaming up with Ocean Exploration Trust to explore the marine ecosystems of the West Coast Region. Working aboard the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus, scientists will map and explore sanctuary sites along the Washington and California coasts.

Researchers will conduct mapping operations and use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to investigate Olympic Coast, Cordell Bank, Greater Farallones, Monterey Bay and Channel Islands national marine sanctuaries. You can watch the livestream here.

The NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research provides support for the complementary ocean exploration program of the E/V Nautilus, which operates under a similar paradigm as the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer.

Nautilus Live map highlighting the spots the vessle will visit in 2020
This expedition map illustrates the locations the E/V Nautilus will visit in 2020. Image: Ocean Exploration Trust
E/V Nautilus on the ocean
E/V Nautilus underway and ready to explore the deep sea. Photo: Ocean Exploration Trust

The E/V Nautilus is equipped with telepresence technologies, which will allow scientists from around the world to participate in and contribute to the success of this mission. Plus, these technologies will bring the National Marine Sanctuary System and ocean science to classrooms and the public, as viewers across the country can directly engage with mission staff and operations.

For a full run-down of Ocean Exploration Trust's 2020 expedition and to watch live video, visit nautiluslive.org. Learn about Ocean Exploration Trust’s work in national marine sanctuaries in 2019 here. Read on for details about the expedition's voyages into your national marine sanctuaries.

You can follow the expedition on the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries social media channels for updates, photos, and video.

2020 expedition dates are subject to change. Please see Ocean Exploration Trust’s website for additional information.

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary & Gradients of Blue Economic Seep Resources

Lead Scientists: Dr. Nicole Raineault, Ocean Exploration Trust, Jenny Waddell, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Dr. Andrew Thurber, Oregon State University
Area of exploration: Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, off of Washington state

Dr. Andrew Thurber of Oregon State University and Jenny Waddell, Research Coordinator at Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary are co-leading this expedition to explore, investigate, and sample biological communities in and around deep canyon features of the Pacific Northwest coast, including deep-sea coral, sponge, and fish communities. They will also be investigating biological communities associated with some of the more than 2,000 methane seep and hydrate locations that have been identified in this region over the past decade.

Activities will focus on deep-sea canyon communities in and adjacent to Quinault Canyon, which lies partially within sanctuary boundaries and also within the protected ‘usual and accustomed’ harvest areas for the Quinault Indian Nation, a sovereign tribal government. ROV work will focus on exploration of hard-bottom habitats within Quinault Canyon, as well as seafloor habitats within Grays Canyon, which lies approximately 20 miles south of the sanctuary.

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1994 and encompasses nearly 3,200 square miles of coastal and ocean habitats along the wild, remote, and scenic Olympic Coast of Washington State.

large vase-shaped 'goiter' sponges
Previous ROV Hercules work in Quinault Canyon in 2017 revealed the presence of numerous large vase-shaped goiter sponges, some of which were more than a meter in height and diameter. In virtually every case, large sponge specimens were found to be popular hideouts for fish, crustaceans, and other seafloor organisms. Photo: OET/NOAA
Map of methane seep sites targeted for exploration in 2020
Locations of methane seep sites targeted for exploration in 2020. Each of the points is a subset of the methane seep plumes that have been previously mapped and are likely dive targets in the two canyons. Plume data were compiled from previous studies. Image: Ocean Exploration Trust

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Santa Lucia Bank

Lead Scientists: Dwight Coleman, University of Rhode Island, Chris Caldow, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Lizzie Duncan, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Lisa Wooninck, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
Area of exploration: Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, off of California

Seafloor mapping, visual surveys, and sample collections during this Nautilus mission will strengthen our understanding of the presence, distribution, condition, and connectivity of deep-sea coral and sponge habitat off the west coast.

The E/V Nautilus has been an instrumental part of the Southern California Seafloor Mapping Initiative and has mapped a number of high-priority footprints around the Channel Islands in the past. Better maps and habitat characterization will help guide the management of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

a purple orb on sediment
The “Purple Orb,” potentially believed to be a new gastropod species, was discovered in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary during a previous E/V Nautilus expedition in 2016. Photo: OET/NOAA

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Lead Scientists: Dr. Dwight Coleman, University of Rhode Island, Chad King, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Jan Roletto, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
Area of exploration: Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, off of California

This joint expedition will visit three distinct areas of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, one of the world’s most productive and biologically rich ocean areas, protecting more than 700 species of fish, marine mammals, seabirds, and invertebrates. Scientists will map, conduct ROV video dives, and collect specimens to aid in characterization of benthic environments. They will revisit the octopus garden discovered on E/V Nautilus expeditions in 2018 and 2019 on the southeastern flanks of Davidson Seamount, a nearby whale fall, previously unexplored linear ridges south of Davidson Seamount, and Pioneer Canyon.

Pioneer Canyon is in the northern portion of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, administered by staff at Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. The head of the canyon is west of Half Moon Bay, and ranges in depth from 500 feet to more than 6,000 feet. Over the next several years, scientists will characterize and study the habitats and species of Pioneer Canyon.

Known as the "Serengeti of the Sea," Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary was established for the purpose of resource protection, research, education, and public use. Human uses include commercial fishing and recreational activities like diving, kayaking, boating, and surfing.

hundreds of small purple octopus in rocky area
This octopus garden, discovered in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary during a 2018 E/V Nautilus expedition, is home to over one thousand brooding female octopuses (Muusoctopus robustus). An additional octopus garden site was discovered during a subsequent 2019 E/V Nautilus expedition. Photo: OET/NOAA
A whale carcass on the seabed, covered in purple octopus and other organisms
When a whale dies, its carcass sinks to the seafloor. These sunken carcasses, known as whale falls, are important sources of nutrition for many deep-sea species. This whale fall was discovered in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary during a 2019 expedition with the E/V Nautilus. Photo: OET/NOAA