Nautilus will return northward along the California coastline for a cruise to study the cultural heritage and natural wildlife in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS). Recently expanded to protect 3,295 square miles, GFNMS contains over 400 shipwrecks and is largely unexplored in the deepest portions. Nautilus will survey the USS Independence, a World War II-era naval ship and former aircraft carrier, once used in the atomic tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. Independence was scuttled offshore of San Francisco in 1951, rediscovered as the deepest shipwreck in GFNMS, and acoustically mapped by NOAA in 2015 using autonomous underwater vehicles. Nautilus will conduct the first visual survey of Independence since her sinking as well as image the ship for photomosaic and microbathymetry data. Two other shipwrecks, the Ituna, which was a historic steam yacht from 1886, and the freighter Dorothy Windermote will also be explored. In addition to documenting and mapping these wrecks, the shipwrecks’ roles as artificial marine habitat for fish and invertebrates will be assessed.
While in GFNMS, an additional goal of the cruise will be to characterize habitat of deep-sea coral and sponges. These zones will be prioritized for future research as they serve as sentinel sites for ocean acidification monitoring and identification of impacts within an upwelling region. The expedition will collect biological samples of deep-sea corals and sponges and associated species for species identification and growth rate studies. This expedition will contribute to the baseline understanding of fish, deep-sea coral and rocky substrate communities within GFNMS.