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First-Ever U.S.-Indonesia Joint Ocean Expedition

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer.

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

This summer, the United States and the Republic of Indonesia partnered on their first-ever, joint ocean expedition in largely unknown Indonesian waters.

As the centerpiece of a broader U.S.-Indonesia science and technology partnership, the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer and Indonesia’s Baruna Jaya IV  shared a mission of discovery, exploring deep waters  exhibiting an incredible diversity of marine life and bringing back captivating images never before seen by human eyes.

What makes this expedition so unique?

This was the maiden voyage of the Okeanos Explorer , which is the only U.S. vessel dedicated to characterizing largely unknown areas of the ocean. Telepresence technology aboard the ship enabled U.S. and Indonesian scientists and technicians ashore to explore, in real time, right along with those at sea.

Telepresence technology in Exploration Command Center.

Telepresence technology in an Exploration Command Center.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Live video feeds from high-definition cameras mounted on a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) system flowed to innovatively equipped Exploration Command Centers located in Jakarta, Indonesia, and at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab in Seattle, Washington; NOAA’s Science Center in Silver Spring, Maryland; the University of New Hampshire; and the University of Rhode Island.

In real time, other scientists participated from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Victoria in Canada. Classroom and online materials connect students of two diverse democracies and educate them on the broader value of exploring Indonesia’s deep sea. As a special touch, crews on both ships reported how excited the Indonesian public was to be experiencing, for the first time and on television, the beauty of their marine environment.

Why is the expedition taking place in Indonesian waters?

Ocean Exploration

Lobsters squat on a large black coral colony.

Lobsters squat on a large black coral colony.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

The extraordinary natural resources in Southeast Asian waters sustain the lives of hundreds of millions of people and benefit many millions more worldwide. Yet the sea surrounding the Indonesian archipelago is virtually unexplored, offering significant opportunities for future research and advancing natural resource management. A shared commitment to enhancing scientific and technological capacity is very much part of this journey of exploration. 

Geology

The area explored is one of the most geologically active in the world, and this expedition provided an opportunity for scientists from both countries to locate, map and characterize unique features, including  hydrothermal vents and the biological communities associated with them.

"Little Hercules" ROV imaged a vent plume as it descended to the summit of a more than10,000-foot high undersea volcano.

"Little Hercules" ROV imaged a vent plume as it descended to the summit of a more than10,000-foot high undersea volcano.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Coral Triangle Initiative

The Coral Triangle, the area of exploration where the Pacific and Indian Oceans meet, offers the richest array of marine biodiversity on the globe. It is home to one-fifth of the world’s shallow water coral. The expedition is examining whether this pattern of rich diversity extends into the deeper waters of the region and, so far, the evidence is compelling.

Climate Change  

In Southeast Asia, climate change is expected to affect 80 percent of the region’s 563 million people. Effects on oceans, coastal communities and livelihoods, along with rising temperatures and health issues, bridge concerns here in the United States.

In particular, sea-level rise and coastal flooding are of significant interest to both nations, especially since the United States has the world’s longest coastline. Indonesia’s coastline is the third longest. Concerns about changes in ocean circulation and acidification are also shared by both nations. Such changes have the potential to alter fisheries and other ocean productivity. 

Fisheries Management

Hermit crabs associate with soft corals and an episymbiontic anemone.

Hermit crabs associate with soft corals and an episymbiontic anemone.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Because healthy, robust fisheries are a huge priority for both the United States and Indonesia, we’re already jointly engaged in managing fisheries and marine protected areas, combating illegal fishing and improving seafood safety. But, we can’t optimally manage what we don’t understand. Exploring deep water areas offers the potential to identify new species, unique species/habitat relationships, and ecological connections between deep and shallow water habitat.

How do two ships explore in tandem?

With outstanding teamwork! Planning the expedition has taken two years of persistence and ingenuity on the part of scientists, technicians, diplomats and NOAA and Indonesian leadership. This summer, scientists, technicians and crew from both countries and Canada participated at sea or ashore.

On the Okeanos Explorer, U.S. and Indonesian scientists and technicians captured and transmitted live deep-sea video to both countries. They created seafloor bathymetric maps using multibeam sonar; characterized the water column (the area of water between the surface and the seafloor) with a water monitoring instrument called a CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth); and explored seafloor habitats with the Institute for Exploration’s “Little Hercules,” a remotely-operated, submersible vehicle.

At other sites, the Baruna Jaya IV conducted complementary mapping and collected biological and inorganic samples. 

Students from different Indonesian provinces learns about becoming an Ocean Ambassador from Rohani (with mike), an education guide at Sea World Indonesia.

Students from different Indonesian provinces learn about becoming an Ocean Ambassador from Rohani (with mike), an education guide at Sea World Indonesia.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Is the world watching?

Definitely. The website where NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research chronicles many ocean exploration expeditions — www.oceanexplorer.noaa.gov — has lots of traffic. Last year, the site attracted about six million visitors. Through July of this year, the number of visitors hit four million.

How can I learn more?

Visit the Okeanos Explorer website.