Remotely operated vehicles and mapping technologies will be used to provide never-before-collected deep ocean data and imagery to Palau

In support of the U.S.’s commitment to map Palau National Marine Sanctuary, – which was announced in 2022 at the Our Ocean Conference hosted by Palau and the U.S. – a deep ocean exploration expedition is being planned for 2024 with funding from NOAA Ocean Exploration via the Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute. Ocean Exploration Trust (OET), the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS), NOAA Ocean Exploration, and other Palauan and U.S. collaborators are working closely to co-develop plans for this expedition, which will be streamed live and will include local scientists, educators, and students. 

The expedition will take place aboard OET’s Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus with the goals of  building on previously acquired data in the region, advancing long-standing collaborations between the U.S. and Palau on protecting fisheries and the environment, and the U.S.’s  commitment to support mapping of PNMS. OET will provide all data to the Palauan government and Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) and aims to provide publicly accessible data to support and enable follow-on exploration and management activities to better understand and care for the ocean.  Building on next year’s activities, NOAA Ocean Exploration is also planning a series of expeditions on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer in Palau in 2025.

The protection secured by PNMS is one of the most ambitious conservation efforts on Earth, protecting rich natural and cultural resources. And yet, there is very little data from waters deeper than 100 meters in PNMS. Less than 20% of Palau’s exclusive economic zone has been mapped to high resolution. Deep water regions surrounding Palau host rich and diverse marine resources, including over 225 underwater mountain seamounts, extremely deep ecosystems in the Palau Trench, and hundreds of underwater historical sites from the voyaging era through World War II.

The announcement comes as members of OET are visiting Palau to hear community science and education priorities for the expedition and to celebrate the eighth anniversary of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary. Working closely with the PICRC as an expedition partner, the planning process has involved meeting with Palauan President Surangel Whipps Jr., Vice President and Minister of Justice Uduch Sengebau Senior, cabinet officials, PNMS Advisory Committee members, and leaders at local institutions like Palau Community College.  The team will continue working on co-developing expedition plans, setting up support to make data publicly accessible, and coordinating outreach with schools and community groups across the year ahead.

OET invites Palauans interested in participating to get involved! Scientists and resource managers are invited to submit exploration priorities for the 2024 E/V Nautilus expedition to Palau via the call for science input.  Palau Community College students and other early career professionals can apply for paid internships to join the expedition at-sea in ocean science, video engineering filmmaking, or robotics roles. Educators can also apply to join the Science Communication Fellowship program and sail as shipboard storytellers and bring ocean exploration home to learners. Additional opportunities may become available as the expedition planning continues.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *