From the Field

Must-See Deep-Sea TV: The Okeanos Explorer

August 8, 2013

Sensitive submarine canyons shelter many species including coldwater coral colonies that have persisted for thousands of years. Image courtesy of Deepwater Canyons 2013 - Pathways to the Abyss, NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS.

Expeditions of Okeanos Explorer are available from NOAA.

I’ll never forget the excitement I felt when I watched a grainy B&W live TV image of Neil Armstrong take the first steps on the moon in 1969.

I had the same feeling today, only turned up to 11 on the thrill & wonder dial.  The Okeanos Explorer is currently on a mission to map and explore our Atlantic Coast submarine canyons, special places just off our shores yet never before been seen  by human eyes. (See live feed above.)

The Okeanos Explorer (America’s Ship for Exploration) is pioneering what I think will become the new status quo model for ocean research – it’s packed with technology and a state-of-the-art underwater research vehicle that streams high resolution video to any number of shore based scientists around the world. It’s highly collaborative, cost efficient and no Dramamine is needed.

We at the Nature Conservancy have worked with partners for several years to advance understanding and conservation of ocean canyons – unambiguously special places from seafloor to sky where diverse marine life like ancient cold water corals, striped dolphin, marlin and storm petrels are found in higher abundance than anywhere else — concentrated ocean wealth that deserves special attention and stewardship.

Much of our ocean work at the Conservancy involves making maps and improving them with partners, in person and over the wires.  We look at colored dots, shapes, and lines showing how ocean life and people connect in special places and we find solutions that can sustain those connections in the face of a lot of daunting challenges.

But once in a while we need a nature-based reality check to remind us we really aren’t talking about colored dots, to nourish the sense of wonder that drives us.

Sensitive submarine canyons shelter many species including coldwater coral colonies that have persisted for thousands of years. Image courtesy of Deepwater Canyons 2013 - Pathways to the Abyss, NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS.
Sensitive submarine canyons shelter many species including coldwater coral colonies that have persisted for thousands of years. Image courtesy of Deepwater Canyons 2013 – Pathways to the Abyss, NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS.

Today some of the Conservancy’s scientists, government relations specialists, fundraisers, operations staff and partners turned on deep sea TV together and couldn’t look away. This is what it sounded like (unedited comments compiled from numerous emails, text messages, and Skype chats):

  • “I wasn’t going to tune in but you tempted me. It is SOOOOO cool!”
  • “It’s like we’re going diving together!”
  • “I wish I could steer it.”
  • “I’m not sure I’m going to get any work done now!”
  • “It looks like it’s snowing.”
  • “It is marine snow. Floating down for billions of years and feeding all the crazy critters”
  • “WOW.  The minute I logged on, a right-eyed flounder swan right past the camera.  This could spell disaster for my afternoon.”
  • I know – I’m glued to it!!!
  • “Is that purple thing an octopus??? And what was the big pink fish on the ledge?”
  • “OMG, what is that!”
  • “Is that a kind of Chimaera?  So much to learn!!”
  • “I totally want a huge whale or massive squid to swim in front of the camera out of the blue.”
  • “My daughter watched the last feed with me for hours and wondered when we were going to see anything other than the “little white squigglies”
  • “Today’s dive is amazing.  It really reminds me of watching the moonwalk as a young boy…only better.”
  • “I know – the thought that that we are all seeing these scenes for the first time together!! ‘Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!’ as Shakespeare said…”

The Okeanos Explorer mission is scheduled to continue through August 16. Today’s dive forecast is good for corals, fish and creatures that look like nothing you ever saw before (plus audio play by play and color commentary from some great scientists).   Check it out.

Join the Discussion

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  1. WOW!!! Thank you for sharing this. The most incredible event on the internet all year. Can’t wait until tomorrow. This is how kids should be spending their time online.

  2. Let’s go diving in Heezen Canyon today! Having Peter Auster today to help with identification of fish and other species is fantastic. Between him and Martha and Amanda all the other scientists, we are really going to learn a lot today. New species are a definite possibility (that is to say new to humans)!

    Breaking…Special opportunity today to chat with mission leads and ask questions:

    Tweet chat! Float by at 11 am (ET) & tweet #Okeanos exploration Qs using #OceanLiveAPNOAA

  3. This is so beautiful, Thank you so much for making this available for all of us. Sitting in Denmark and watching and listning.. LOVE IT !!!

  4. Tomorrow’s dive will be at the steep and rocky Lydonia Canyon & I expect it will be spectacular with good chances of seeing bubblegum coral trees over 6 feet tall, like we saw on dives in Nygren and Heezen Canyons last week. Deepsea corals are among the oldest organisms on the planet; some have been continuously growing for over 4,000 years!

    Twitter users can follow along or catch highlights of dives you can’t make at #Okeanos

  5. Say it isn’t so. I want to keep watching! Thank you for sharing such an amazing expedition and reminding us about the incredible life that exists — and needs to be protected — on this planet. I hope you can create a program or series of programs for broadcast on Nat Geo or Discovery.

    Thank you, thank you.

    1. I know Ron, I’m having a hard time accepting today’s dive was the last of this expedition. But what an amazing finish with that amazing and large Greenland shark (tentative ID) in the very last moments on the bottom. I do think some of us may need a special support group to fill the void now!

      Very excited about integrating all the new information and data into our marine conservation databases as it becomes available. I would like to stress that Deep-Sea TV has been produced by NOAA and USGS and BOEM and other federal agencies — our partners on many projects around the U.S and world. I’m sure the great success of this expedition in reaching and touching the interested public — over 50,000 people tuning in on some days, will inspire similar future efforts. Thanks to all for your interest in blue planet conservation and Cool Green Science!

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