The Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument is one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world and encompasses three areas of interest for this cruise: Howland and Baker Islands and Johnston Atoll. As we travel from American Samoa to Hawai'i, the view out from the E/V Nautilus is a whole of blue ocean. Underneath the sea, however, lie seamounts--underwater mountains brimming with biodiversity. Seamounts tend to be nutrient-rich areas due to the currents which flow over them. They offer a rich habitat for filter-feeding organisms, like corals and sponges that can find food despite the extreme deep-sea environment where they live. Coral, sponges, and other organisms here also serve as habitat for other opportunistic and filter feeders, hungry to find food flowing through the currents. These cohabiters, or “associates” add to the diversity of species living in these protected areas and have found some pretty unique areas to call home.
The main objective of this expedition is to collect deepwater baseline information to support science and management decisions in and around U.S. marine protected areas in the central Pacific. We will conduct seafloor mapping and acquire video, biological, chemical, and geological samples in deep-sea portions of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in order to better understand marine habitats, biogeographic patterns, seafloor mineral distribution, and the geologic history of these areas.