NOAA Okeanos Explorer Mid-Atlantic Deep-Sea Canyon Expedition

MARCO …. August 1, 2019

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO) is excited about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) summer 2019 expedition aboard the Okeanos Explorer research vessel , in which Mid-Atlantic canyons and other deep sea habitat are being explored. During this expedition, NOAA and partners are testing new technologies that may help the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) map and characterize the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone by 2030.

The Okeanos Explorer is equipped with telepresence technology that displays real-time data and video; click here to view video highlights, or even a live stream when applicable.

During the first of two expedition legs, researchers aboard the Okeanos Explorer deployed new and existing technologies along the U.S. northeast continental shelf, particularly in areas with currently limited bathymetric data. The Norfolk, Washington, Baltimore, and Wilmington Canyons – all in the Mid-Atlantic region – were included in the expedition’s route, and maps of the dive sites, stories and photos from the dives made during the first leg can be found here. The expedition’s second leg, which ended August 1, 2019, occurred off the coasts of New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and includes some deepwater dives by OER’s ROV Deep Discoverer. The dives are targeting deep-water coral and sponge communities, as well as an Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH) site that is potentially the USS Baldwin, a World War II U.S. Navy destroyer that was scuttled on June 6, 1961.

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Understanding marine habitats is a regional priority for the five MARCO states. Cold-water corals, deep submarine canyons, and a broad, sandy continental shelf are among the diverse ocean habitats of the Mid-Atlantic region. Home to sea turtles, whales, dolphins, seabirds, fish, crustaceans, corals, and other species, these habitats are critical for the region’s commercial and recreational fisheries, and provide support for other drivers of the coastal economy. This mission is of particular interest to MARCO because it will fill gaps in the basic understanding of U.S. deep waters and seafloor, and will provide deep-ocean data that can be used by coastal states to ensure sustainable ocean planning.

In 2015, MARCO funded a data analysis effort conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in which TowCam technology was utilized to sample Mid-Atlantic deep-sea canyons. Approximately 38,900 images from 19 TowCam tows were analyzed for coral and habitat types, and geo-referenced locations for corals, sponges, and fish. Diversity in bathymetry, topography, geology, species, and the composition of habitats they provide were noted across all canyons, as was marine debris like plastic bags. The results of this effort were presented during a workshop in 2016, and more information about the project can be found here.

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