No time to explore the ocean? We’ve got you covered

Join in explorations of national marine sanctuaries

By Claire Fackler and Hannah MacDonald

May 2019

Approximately 95 percent of the ocean remains unexplored, much of it in the deep sea. Even your national marine sanctuaries contain areas that have still not been seen by humans – we still know so little about what lies far beneath the surface. For this reason, the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries seeks to deepen our understanding of sanctuaries through deep-water exploration and research. Learning more about the mysteries of the deep will drive the protection of our vital ocean.

Throughout 2019, Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, Ocean Exploration Trust, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will conduct state-of-the-art ocean research in national marine sanctuaries with remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and various other marine technology resources. Each mission will be equipped with technology that can connect you to live dives, research, and exploration over the internet. All while viewing at home or with your class at school, you’ll be able to feel like you are co-piloting the exploration at the bottom of the sea while viewing the live footage beaming up from these underwater robots.

Sharing the excitement of endless ocean and Great Lakes discovery will further foster fascination, curiosity, and the desire to understand and protect the ocean. Bringing the public beneath the waves to experience the possibilities of deep sea hidden mysteries in real time embodies the idea that national marine sanctuaries belong to all of us. They are ours to explore and discover and ours to protect.

In 2018, NOAA competitively awarded $3.5 million to Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, Ocean Exploration Trust, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for deep-water exploration and research in your National Marine Sanctuary System in 2019. Each expedition will emphasize education and outreach to engage and inspire the next generation of innovators, explorers and scientists. Stay tuned to explore and discover the deep waters of our national marine sanctuaries with us!

two educators in the nautilus studio
Educators bring the excitement of exploration and research through live ship-to-shore interactions with classrooms, museums, and science centers from the E/V Nautilus’ ship studio. Photo: NOAA

During each expedition, we will engage broad audiences with a variety of programs to participate in the excitement of ocean discovery. By streaming high-resolution images and video to land and through social media, we’ll be bringing viewers along for real-time ocean exploration and interactions with the researchers. Interested to see which of the national marine sanctuaries we will be exploring this coming year? Read on below.

Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration: Sharing the Flower Garden Banks with the world

From August 14 to September 1, Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration will visit Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary for a multifaceted expedition. The research will include studying benthic communities, assessing connectivity among corals and sponges, and sampling deep-sea corals. You will even be able to catch the beautiful spawning of corals that only takes place once per year.

coral spawning
Reef-building corals spawn in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary every August. Photo: GP Schmahl/NOAA

Ocean Exploration Trust: Exploration and outreach in national marine sanctuaries

Ocean Exploration Trust will be exploring four national marine sanctuaries in the Pacific Ocean with the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus. They will also study one national marine sanctuary in the Great Lakes, Thunder Bay, using an autonomous surface vehicle.

expedition map
Nautilus 2019 Expedition Map. Image: Ocean Exploration Trust

From May 6 through 17, mapping efforts will be scouting the lakebed in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary for lost shipwrecks, including Ironton, which collided with the recently-discovered Ohio in 1894. Mapping will also focus on discovering submerged sinkholes, which contain unique biogeochemistry conditions that support unique non-photosynthetic benthic microbial mats.

From July 22 to August 5, the E/V Nautilus will journey to National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa to explore understudied mesophotic coral ecosystems, or corals that grow in low-light conditions deeper in the water. Researchers will also study a volcanically-active crater and increase understanding of diversity and distribution of deep-sea communities.

In October, the E/V Nautilus will return to the West Coast of the United States to visit Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank, and Monterey Bay national marine sanctuaries. Researchers will map areas of Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones national marine sanctuaries to classify deep-sea coral and sponge habitats and to identify sites for future ocean acidification monitoring. In Monterey Bay, the octopus garden site, where over 1,000 brooding octopuses were found in 2018, will be revisited. Davidson Seamount, a pristine undersea mountain that is known for its diversity of deep-sea corals, sponge fields, and deep-sea fisheries, will be further explored for a variety of possible discoveries.

several small octopuses
More than a thousand Muusoctopus robustus octopuses were observed on one dive in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 2018. Most individuals were observed in a likely brooding posture, seen tucked into nooks with arms inverted covering their bodies and white egg clusters. Photo: Ocean Exploration Trust/NOAA
purple octopus
This Graneledone boreopacifica octopus was sighted in Bodega Canyon in Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary during the 2017 Nautilus expedition. Photo: Ocean Exploration Trust/NOAA

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: Exploring Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary with deep-sea technology

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will spend several days in September in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary to explore various archeological sites, survey shipwrecks and their surrounding ecosystems, and document deep-sea habitats to locate new maritime heritage sites. ROV optical surveys will be conducted on the wrecks of the steamship Portland and the coal schooners Frank A. Palmer and Louise B. Crary. A special focus of the research will be how biological life interacts with and uses shipwrecks as homes.

atlantic cod clustered under a shipwreck
Atlantic cod seek shelter under the Palmer wreck in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Matthew Lawrence/NOAA

These organizations will help us explore treasured deep-water places throughout the United States and further our understanding of national marine sanctuaries. Discovery, sound science, and research are critical to improving the conservation, management, and sustainable use of marine resources and inspiring ocean stewardship. Join us and connect with your national marine sanctuaries!

Claire Fackler is the national education liaison and national volunteer coordinator for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Hannah MacDonald is the education specialist for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.