An ocean of discovery

By Aruna Lolani ,

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DRIVE TO DISCOVER UNKNOWN OCEAN MYSTERIES: N.O.A.A. Okeanos Explorer at Apia Harbor.

DRIVE TO DISCOVER UNKNOWN OCEAN MYSTERIES: N.O.A.A. Okeanos Explorer at Apia Harbor. (Photo: Misiona Simo)

There is a lot more to learn about the ocean.

So says the Expedition Manager, Kelley Elliot, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association Ship, Okeanos Explorer, which is Apia.

Science students from several local schools, Maritime Academy, as well as civil society groups boarded the N.O.A.A. Okeanos Explorer for a tour about the deep-sea technologies used to explore the ocean. 

The guests marveled at the ship’s capabilities being used to investigate unknown deep water mysteries in American Samoa and Samoa. 

 “It’s kind of a big deal because we’ve only explored about five percent of the ocean so there’s a lot left that’s unknown,” said Elliott. 

“Our mission is to explore that remaining 95% unknown ocean and to do that systematically, with a couple of core capabilities. We’re going to places that we’ve never been before and we don’t know what we’re going to find.” 

So far, the expedition has been okay for the scientists on board, learning something new step by step. 

One of the Scientists involved is Santiago Herrera.

 “The purpose of the expedition is to generate baseline information about what lives in the deep waters of the Pacific,” he said.

“In this area, we know very little so every time we put down people in the water, we start to observe things that were just so fascinating and puzzling.” 

 “One of the other biggest goals of the expedition was also to provide information that will be helpful to manage marine protected areas that are trying to preserve some of the most pristine legal systems on the planet.”

He said they have just begun to understand the resources, which exist in the waters of Samoa.

 “So by protecting those resources you can ensure that those resources will be available in the longer term in the Samoan waters. We hope that the findings of this expedition will facilitate and help the management of those protected areas and by providing information that didn’t exist in the deeper parts of those protected areas.” 

It is also from this expedition they were able to understand the creation of the biological community; and how similar or different they are from the communities they see in the deep waters and other parts of the world. 

 “We collected images and biological specimens to find new potential species as well as species that may be first observations in this region.” 

From all the data they are able to gather, they can determine how each species are related.

Santiago Herrera (Biologist), Dr. Matthew Jackson (Geologist and Marineologist).
Santiago Herrera (Biologist), Dr. Matthew Jackson (Geologist and Marineologist).

“So we collected a lot of information, several terabytes of data we collected to do videos and maps and we would be analyzing those in the coming years to be able to make some inferences of the understanding and geological setting and biological community species we see in this area of the world.”

Santiago said most of their dives were focused on American Samoa but there’s been some mapping done in Samoa. 

Santiago added that areas in the deep for the Central Pacific are not very well known.

“When we think about the ocean, the average depth of the sea floor in the ocean is almost 4kilometers deep but the fact is that, we as humans, we’re only able to swim or scuba dive only to the top most layer. That maybe 40 meters so most of what lives below those depths is completely unknown in many places around the world.”

Santiago and Dr. Matthew Jackson are happy that they can share this experience with everyone in the world. 

“That’s one of the biggest commitment of this programme is that all of the data, the images, the maps, the samples will be available to everyone in the world.”

 “We are able to stream the live video feed and the audio in real time through the internet and anybody in the world can watch it at the same time as we are seeing it including scientists.”

 “We have more than 180 scientists from all over the world including North America, South America, Europe, Samoa, Australia, Japan and Russia.”

“Everyone in the world was participating giving us feedbacks as we were diving.”

Santiago added that one of their other biggest commitments is to request to the scientists that are responsible for naming the discovered species to consider naming these species Samoan names. 

He also said that he’s asked some students that toured the ship, if they have any suggestions for Samoan names; they can pass it along to them. 

He went on to say that their next mission will start in a couple of days on a Tuesday and it will go back through the north. 

“There will be some work in the Samoan region but there will be a lot of work through the north in the Phoenix Islands.”

“There will be more expeditions that the ship will come back after that, to do mapping in this region; Samoa.” 

“So it’s a big project with multiple parts and this is just the first part, this is the part we’re most focused on, the Samoan waters.”

© Samoa Observer 2016

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