On September 24, 2014, President Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument – creating a protected area nearly 490,000 square miles in size, one of the largest in the world. The expanded Monument includes over 130 newly protected seamounts to the south and west of Hawaii, which are hotspots of biodiversity that harbor uncounted numbers of new and unique marine species. The Pacific monuments represent some of the last relatively pristine marine ecosystems on the planet. Although they are already protected, their remoteness makes it difficult for us to learn more about the rarely-seen plants and animals populating these areas.
Ready to address this challenge, in 2015 NOAA kicked off a three-year effort called CAPSTONE (Campaign to Address Pacific monument Science, Technology, and Ocean NEeds). During a series of expeditions from 2015 through 2017, NOAA and its partners are collecting baseline information within and around U.S. marine protected areas in the central and western Pacific and livestreaming expeditions so that everyone can join in uncovering remote ecosystems and discovering new species. The relatively pristine and undisturbed deepwater sites explored during CAPSTONE provide an unprecedented “natural laboratory” for scientists to collect baseline data. These data are critical to managers working to protect vulnerable deep marine habitats, particularly in the face of environmental change and emerging economic interests.
Since July 2015, scientists aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer have conducted four expeditions to explore and understand the deepwater areas of the Johnston Atoll and Wake Atoll Units of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Expeditions include 24-hour operations of seafloor mapping and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dives to obtain high-resolution video of these areas. To date, the team has mapped more than 230,000 square kilometers of seafloor; conducted nearly 100 ROV dives; observed hundreds of animals, including many animals that are potentially new species; and collected hundreds of biological and geological samples.
Scientists and students from around the world participated in the expeditions through real-time telepresence. We are livestreaming these expeditions to allow scientists, students, and the general public to follow along as discoveries unfold along the seafloor. The live video received more than 3.1 million views during the recent Marianas expedition alone.
Clearly there is much more to explore in these vast and diverse ocean areas and the Okeanos Explorer has recently returned to the Monument to do just that! From July 27 to August 19, the ship is exploring in and around the Wake Atoll Unit of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. During the expedition, the at-sea and shore-based science teams are working together to make some of the first deepwater scientific observations ever in this area. This expedition provides an exciting opportunity for anyone to watch live as we visit some of the least explored parts of the planet for the first time in history.
Through August 15, anyone with an Internet connection can follow along with the expedition as high-definition video is streamed live to shore from ROV Deep Discoverer. Dives are expected to occur daily, starting at 4:30 PM EDT and will last approximately 8 - 10 hours. Additionally, mission logs, daily updates, educational materials, and multimedia elements will be added to the Ocean Explorer website throughout the expedition.
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Expedition website: http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/explorations/ex1606/welcome.html
Dr. Alan Leonardi is Director of NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and Samantha Brooke is Manager of NOAA's Marine National Monuments Program.