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Deep-sea exploration expedition to launch in Palau next year

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

By Pacific Island Times News Staff

Koror-- A deep ocean exploration expedition is being planned for 2024 in preparation for the mapping of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary.

The mapping project, which was first announced in 2022 at the Our Ocean Conference hosted by Palau and the U.S., will be funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Ocean Exploration through the Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute.

According to the Palau International Coral Reef Center, Ocean Exploration Trust, the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA Ocean Exploration and other Palauan and U.S. collaborators are working closely to co-develop plans for the 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 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," PICRC said.

The reef center said less than 20 percent 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 reef center said.

The announcement coincides with the visit of OET members 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.

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