Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas


Location: Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands

Date: April-May 2016

Ship: NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

The goal of our expedition was to explore and collect baseline information in unknown and poorly-known areas in and around the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands using the ROV Deep Discoverer. Most of the deep sea has never been visualized and so initiatives like this are important as they give us a glimpse of what kind of habitats are down in the depths and what lives at them. This then allows us to take the appropriate measures to manage and protect them.

ROV surveys were conducted from 240 m to 4,996 m and dive sites included precious-coral and bottomfish fishery habitats, seamounts and manganese-encrusted seafloor habitats, hydrothermal vents, mud volcanoes, and extinct and active volcanic calderas. As the primary goal of this ship is exploration, it meant that this was the first time that all of these sites were imaged by ROV. The imagery collected during the cruise was stunning, there was lots of outreach, streaming our dives live on the internet (telepresence) rocks, the team on board was so much fun and so professional, and it turns out the geology lead on board (Deb Glickson) is my science soulmate. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful that I was invited to take part as Biology Lead.

Working in poorly-known regions means lots of new animals and habitats, and the Marianas were no exception! We saw hundreds of different species of animals. There were dozens of potential new species, as well as many new records for the region. New species included six sponges, a tilefish, a jellyfish, a seastar, two new species of crinoid, although there were probably many more. We collected 45 different species, each likely new to science, and 28 rock samples for use in age-dating and geochemical composition analysis. Check out the Mission Summary for more details.

The news and media coverage by more than 70 outlets (including CNN, NPR, LA Times, Washington Post, Scientific American, USA Today, BBC) was insane!  We think this little jellyfish was the trigger but it meant we were kept busy doing interviews during and after the cruise. There were more than 2.5 million views of the live video feeds from the expedition, greatly breaking the previous record of 700,000! Yes people, the Okeanos Explorer and the great team on board know how to do science communication!

There are a few photos at the end of this post from the expedition, although you can see much more on the Okeanos Explorer Marianas expedition website where they have lots of cool photos and videos, as well as mission logs, background posts and daily updates.

Read about the background of the expedition here (as well as read daily updates, catch up on missed highlights etc.):