Project Title: 2018 NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer Oceano Profundo: Exploring Dee-sea Habitats off Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
Project Summary

EX1811: October 30-November 20, 2018  Science Leads: Steve Auscavitch and Stacey Williams

The Océano Profundo 2018 expedition addressed science and management priorities put forward by NOAA, resource managers, and scientists from the region. NOAA priorities for the expedition included a combination of science, education, outreach, and open data objectives that will provide a better understanding of this important, yet mostly unexplored, marine region. These objectives include:

  • Acquire data on deepwater habitats to support science and management needs in Caribbean waters off Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and in support of ASPIRE
  • Explore deepwater areas relevant to resource managers, such as essential fish habitat (EFH), habitat areas of particular concern (HAPCs), marine protected areas (MPAs), and other priority management areas
  • Map, survey, and characterize the diversity and distribution of deep-sea benthic communities, particularly those found within deep-sea coral and sponge habitats, deepwater snapper and grouper habitats, and other vulnerable marine habitats
  • Investigate biogeographic patterns and connectivity of deep-sea organisms in the Caribbean Region for use in broader comparisons of deepwater habitats across the Atlantic Basin
  • Map, survey, and sample geologic features to better understand the geological context of the region and improve knowledge of past and future geohazards
  • Collect high-resolution bathymetry and backscatter data in areas with no (or low quality) sonar data, as well as to support ROV operations and identify potential maritime heritage sites
  • Acquire a foundation of ROV, sonar, and oceanographic data to better understand the characteristics of the water column and the pelagic fauna that live there
  • Engage a broad spectrum of the scientific community and public in telepresence-based exploration and provide a foundation of publicly accessible data products to spur further exploration, research, and management activities
Anticipated Management Application(s)

Despite its critical importance, we have only begun to understand the region’s deep-sea resources, oceanography, bathymetry, geology, ecosystems, and trans-Atlantic biological connectivity. The deep waters surrounding Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are some of the least explored in the entire U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone of the Atlantic Ocean, and information collected during the expedition will help fill important knowledge gaps.

In addition to being largely unexplored, the deep waters of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands also include various areas where more information is needed to support management efforts. Specifically, deep-sea environments inhabited by commercial fishery species, particularly deepwater grouper and snapper, as well as deeper extensions of marine protected areas in this region, remain mostly unexplored. The Océano Profundo 2018 expedition involved mapping and ROV operations in several of these areas and thereby provided critical baseline information to support the science and management needs of the region. Furthermore, the Caribbean Sea is an area of active tectonic activity, which is subject to earthquakes, landslides, and other geohazards. During this expedition, several such geological areas of interest were explored, providing important insights into past, present, and future geohazards of the Caribbean.

Location(s):
  • Caribbean
Point of Contact: Office of the Point of Contact:
  • OAR OER
Project Title: 2018 NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer Oceano Profundo: Exploring Dee-sea Habitats off Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
Methods/Approach
  • 14,429 square kilometers of seafloor mapped in the U.S. EEZ
  • 19 remotely operated vehicle dives at a depth range of 250 to 5,000 meters
  • 81 biological and 8 geological samples collected
  • corals and sponge communities were documented during all 19 ROV dives
  • 63 scientists, managers, & students from 7 different countries participated
  • 166,900+ live video views and 18,900+ views to expedition content
  • A high-density community of deepwater stylasterid corals was recorded at 300 meters depth, west of Desecheo Island off the west shore of Puerto Rico. This was one of six high-density coral communities recorded during the expedition.
  • A catshark embryo, actively swimming inside a translucent egg case attached to a deep-sea coral, was seen at a depth of 250 meters during Dive 15 of the expedition.
  • 8 live telepresence interactions were conducted with various venues around the country, reaching over 675 individuals. 
  • Many expedition science and outreach activities were conducted in both English and Spanish, including bilingual coverage on the live video narrations, expedition website, live interactions, and ship tours. 
Project Results and Management Outcomes  None Defined

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