National Ocean & Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Exploration & Research

Logo of NOAA, National Ocean & Atmospheric Administration, which administers all United States Marine Sanctuaries.Even as the importance of deep areas of the ocean in our everyday lives continues to increase, most of our knowledge of the ocean lies in shallower waters. Our deep-ocean knowledge remains limited and, in many instances, we are left “flying blind” when it comes to areas such as management, regulation, and resource use in deep-water areas.

The NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research is the only federal organization currently dedicated to exploring our unknown ocean.

NOAA Explorer Live Video Link, leading to video of live exploration operations around the world. Our unique capabilities are allowing us to reduce unknowns in deep-ocean areas and provide the high-value environmental intelligence needed by NOAA and the nation to address both current and emerging science and management needs.

We provide partnership coordination, funding, staff, tools, and expertise needed to develop exploration missions that deliver rigorous, systematic observations and documentation of biological, chemical, physical, geological, and archaeological aspects of the ocean. We work to get scientists to uncharted areas; to design, test, and implement new deep-sea technologies; and to bring the wonders of ocean exploration to everyone. And, during and after expeditions, our system of data management ensures that collected information arrives quickly – and accurately – into the hands of those who need it to make timely decisions.

NOAA OKEANOS Explores Mariana Trench, go to live video feed on NOAA Explorer website. Every day, our unique capabilities are helping to advance knowledge and understanding needed to help citizens, businesses, and governments make smart choices to protect lives, property, and economic well being. 

Click on image to the to see live video coverage from three cameras, till mid-July 2016, the NOAA Okeanos Explorer on expedition exploring the deep seas of the Mariana Islands.  The live coverage goes from April to July and can be seen on You Tube also. 


Hohonu Moana: Exploring the Deep Waters Off Hawaii(July – September) From July 10 to September 30, a team of NOAA and external partners both at-sea and on shore will conduct mapping and remotely operated vehicle operations in the deep waters of the Hawaiian Archipelago, including the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and Johnston Atoll.

Coral Figures studied by NOAA. Coral Ecosystem Connectivity 2015: From Pulley Ridge to the Florida Keys(August – September) From August 22-September 4, scientists will conduct the final round of fieldwork as part of the Coral Ecosystem Connectivity 2015: From Pulley Ridge to the Florida Keys expedition.

Painting of search for lost whaling ships in the Arctic ice. Search for the Lost Whaling Fleets of the Western Arctic(August) The Search for the Lost Whaling Fleets of the Western Arctic expedition, conducted in August of 2015, brings the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries’ Maritime Heritage Program to the remote and challenging Alaska region for the first time in the more than four decades since the creation of the National Marine Sanctuary Program.

Deep ocean jellyfish glowing bright blue.

Bioluminescence and Vision on the Deep Seafloor 2015 (July) From July 15-27, scientists will use combined expertise in bioluminescence, taxonomy, visual ecology, imaging and molecular biology, and the unique collecting capabilities and camera systems of the Global Explorer to continue studies of the deep-sea benthic environment in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tropical Exploration 2015(May – June) From May 8 to June 12, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer will journey from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, exploring along the way. Okeanos Explorer will leave Puerto Rico to traverse the Western Caribbean, Panama Canal, and Eastern Pacific.

fig3-300Océano Profundo 2015: Exploring Puerto Rico’s Seamounts, Trenches, and Troughs(February – April) From February through April 2015, the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research will lead a three-leg expedition aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to explore unknown and poorly known deepwater regions around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


Mapping the Uncharted Diversity of Arctic Marine MicrobesBetween January 2015 and August 2016, scientists will use next-generation DNA sequencing technologies and cutting-edge bioinformatics approaches to enable the discovery and characterization of the largely unknown molecular diversity of microbes associated with Arctic sea ice and seafloor habitats.

U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Florida Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, FloridaDesignated on November 16, 1990, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is one of 15 marine protected areas that make up the National Marine Sanctuary System. Administered by NOAA, a federal agency, and jointly managed with the State of Florida, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of waters surrounding the Florida Keys, from south of Miami westward to encompass the Dry Tortugas, excluding Dry Tortugas National Park. The shoreward boundary of the sanctuary is the mean high-water mark, essentially meaning that once you set foot in Keys waters, you have entered the sanctuary.

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Washington State. Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Washington State. Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary includes 2,408 square nautical miles of marine waters off the rugged Olympic Peninsula coastline. The sanctuary extends 25 to 50 miles seaward, covering much of the continental shelf and several major submarine canyons. The sanctuary protects a productive upwelling zone – home to marine mammals and seabirds. Along its shores are thriving kelp and intertidal communities, teeming with fishes and other sea life. In the darkness of the seafloor, scattered communities of deep sea coral and sponges form habitats for fish and other important marine wildlife.

National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, South PacificThe National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa is located in the cradle of Polynesia’s oldest culture and is thought to support the greatest diversity of marine life in the National Marine Sanctuary System, including a wide variety of coral and other invertebrates, fishes, turtles, marine mammals and marine plants. The sanctuary protects extensive coral reefs, including some of the oldest and largest Porites coral heads in the world, along with deep water reefs, hydrothermal vent communities, and rare marine archaeological resources, and also encompasses important fishing grounds, the southernmost point in the United States, and waters surrounding one of the world’s smallest atolls. The sanctuary is also the only true tropical reef within the National Marine Sanctuary System, and is the most remote location within that system. NOAA co-manages the sanctuary with the American Samoa Government and works closely with communities adjacent to the sanctuary, all within the context of Samoan cultural traditions and practices.

Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Northern California.Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Northern Californiahe Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary was established in 1989 to protect and preserve the extraordinary marine ecosystem surrounding the Cordell Bank. In 2015, the sanctuary was expanded north and west to include additional waters and submerged lands, including Bodega Canyon. Surrounded by soft sediments of the continental shelf seafloor, Cordell Bank emerges with a rocky habitat, providing home to colorful and abundant invertebrates, algae, and fishes. The productive waters attract migratory seabirds and marine mammals from all around the Pacific Ocean to feed in this dynamic food web.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Central California.Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Central CaliforniaWelcome to Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary! One of our nation’s most spectacular marine protected areas, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary offers some of the best wildlife viewing in the world! This “Serengeti of the Sea” stretches along the central coast from San Francisco to Cambria and includes pristine beaches, jewel-like tide pools, lush kelp forests, steep canyons and an offshore seamount teeming with life—from tiny shrimp to giant blue whales. The National Marine Sanctuary System promotes environmental protection, stewardship and ocean research. We invite you to explore and help protect this national undersea treasure.

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, North Pacific Near Hawaii.Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, North Pacific Near HawaiiPapahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is the largest contiguous fully protected conservation area under the U.S. flag, and one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. It encompasses 139,797 square miles of the Pacific Ocean (362,073 square kilometers) – an area larger than all the country’s national parks combined. (See map)

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument was established by Presidential Proclamation 8031 on June 15, 2006 under the authority of the Antiquities Act (16 U.S.C. 431-433). It was expressly created to protect an exceptional array of natural and cultural resources. A year later, it was given its Hawaiian name, Papahānaumokuākea. (Learn more about the meaning, pronunciation and significance of our name here.

Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Hawaiihe Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary was created by Congress in 1992 to protect humpback whales and their habitat in Hawaiʻi. It is administered by the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS). The sanctuary is located from the shoreline to the 100-fathom isobath (600 ft. depth) in the four island area of Maui; Penguin Bank; and off the north shore of Kauaʻi, the north and south shores of Oʻahu, and the north Kona and Kohala coast of Hawaiʻi Island. Discover marine life and extraordinary habitats that make up your nation’s marine sanctuaries and our continuing efforts to conserve these ocean and coastal treasures.

Grays Reef National Marine Sanctuary, Georgia.Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, GeorgiaGray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary is Georgia’s amazing underwater park. The natural live-bottom reef is teeming with marine life and is part of the endangered North Atlantic right whale’s calving ground. Loggerhead turtles rest at the reef, where scientists have identified more than 200 fish species.

Gray’s Reef was designated as a sanctuary on January 16, 1981, and is the only protected natural reef area on the continental shelf off the Georgia coast. The 22 square miles of Gray’s Reef protects an area that is recognized nationally and internationally.

The mission of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary is to identify, protect, conserve, and enhance the natural and cultural resources, values and qualities of the sanctuary for current and future generations.

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Southern California.Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Southern CaliforniaThrough education, conservation, science, and stewardship, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary provides protection to its extraordinary natural and cultural resources so that nature can thrive, historic shipwrecks and artifacts remain respectfully in place, cultural connections remain strong, and careful public use and enjoyment can be sustained.

Designated in 1980 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the sanctuary spans 1,470 square miles surrounding five of the Channel Islands: San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa and Santa Barbara.  Explore our web site and enjoy!

Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Massachusetts Bay.Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Massachusetts BayWe’re # 1 – Best Place to See Aquatic Life. Our mission is to conserve, protect and enhance the biological diversity, ecological integrity and cultural legacy of the sanctuary while facilitating compatible use. 

We’re jumping for joy! Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary was voted Best Place to See Aquatic Life in USA Today’s latest 10-Best Reader’s Choice travel awards contest. The sanctuary’s popularity as a world-renowned whale watching site generated support from a wide ranging voting public. The consistent sightings and active behaviors of some of the largest animals on the planet make an ocean safari to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary a trip to remember. Click here to read the story.

Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Northern & Central California.Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Central & Northern CaliforniaDesignated in 1981, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS) spanned 1,279-square-miles (966 square nautical miles) just north and west of San Francisco Bay, and protected open ocean, nearshore tidal flats, rocky intertidal areas, estuarine wetlands, subtidal reefs, and coastal beaches within its boundaries. In 2015, GFNMS expanded north and west of their original boundaries to encompass 3,295 square miles, and changed their name to Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. GFNMS has administrative jurisdiction over the northern portion of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, from the San Mateo/Santa Cruz County line northward to the existing boundary between the two sanctuaries. GFNMS maintains an administrative office and public Visitor Center on Crissy Field in the Presidio of San Francisco.

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Northwestern Lake Huron, Great Lakes.Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Northwestern Lake Huron in Great LakesLocated in northwestern Lake Huron, Thunder Bay is adjacent to one of the most treacherous stretches of water within the Great Lakes system. Unpredictable weather, murky fog banks, sudden gales, and rocky shoals earned the area the name Shipwreck Alley. Today, the 4300-square-mile Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary protects one of America’s best-preserved and nationally-significant collections of shipwrecks. Fire, ice, collisions, and storms have claimed over 200 vessels in and around Thunder Bay. To date, nearly 100 shipwrecks have been discovered within the sanctuary. Although the sheer number of shipwrecks is impressive, it is the range of vessel types located in the sanctuary that makes the collection nationally significant. From an 1844 sidewheel steamer to a modern 500-foot-long German freighter, the shipwrecks of Thunder Bay represent a microcosm of maritime commerce and travel on the Great Lakes.

Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, Cape Hatteras, North CarolinaSituated just 16 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., Monitor National Marine Sanctuary protects the shipwreck of the famed Civil War ironclad, USS Monitor. The Monitor, while under tow to Beaufort, N.C., sank during a storm on December 31, 1862, and was not discovered until 1973. Today the sanctuary is managed by a staff of seven full-time employees through a combination of education, archaeology, marine science and regulatory programs. Staff members are located at offices in Newport News, Va.

From Beginning to End: The USS Monitor’s 150th Anniversary

The year 2012 represented an iconic year for the USS Monitor. It marked the 150th anniversary of both her beginning and her end. The Monitor‘s legacy began on January 30, 1862, as she was launched from Continental Ironworks in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, N.Y. March 9th celebrated the anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads, where the Monitor and CSS Virginia met in a battle that forever changed naval warfare. December 31, offered a look back at the loss of the Monitor‘s and 16 crewmen.

Throughout the year, both NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and our partner, The Mariners’ Museum commemorated the Monitor‘s history with numerous outreach events. Visit the USS Monitor Preserving a Legacy website to learn more about this great ship and the commemorative events held in her honor.