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NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the stewardship of the nation's ocean resources and their habitat. The agency provides vital services for the nation, all backed by sound science and an ecosystem-based approach to management. 

The Expanding Pacific Research and Exploration of Submerged Systems, or EXPRESS, initiative is a multi-year, multi-agency project to survey and map undersea habitats throughout the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. This fall’s EXPRESS expedition represents the work of two different NOAA Fisheries offices along with USGS and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. BOEM contributed financial or scientific expertise to this expedition. 

The expedition will survey areas considered for the development of offshore wind energy. These undersea areas also may include Essential Fish Habitat, which is important to various marine species and is protected by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.  The information researchers gather serves as the science behind important decisions about how we use and protect these areas. 

NOAA Fisheries scientist Dr. Elizabeth Clarke leads a team of scientists from NOAA Fisheries, USGS, and WHOI on this latest EXPRESS expedition. The NOAA team combines decades of experience analyzing seafloor habitats, and the sea life found there using advanced technologies. 

The expedition supports the growth of America's Blue Economy and NOAA’s mission. The data these researchers collect will support:

  • Productive and sustainable fisheries.
  • Recovery and conservation of protected resources.
  • Healthy ecosystems.
  • Offshore renewable energy development.

Expedition researchers will use advanced technology, including: 

  • Underwater Robots - Researchers will deploy both autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) and remotely operated vehicles (ROV) from the ship. These underwater robots are owned and operated by NOAA, MARI, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. They allow us to get a glimpse at the deep-sea coral communities and other underwater habitats.
  • Automated image analysis - Researchers will use software designed to automate the analysis of the thousands of images collected from the ROV and AUVs with the goal of extracting species-specific, size-structured abundance measures.
  • Environmental DNA sampling and genetic analysis - Researchers will collect water samples at each station and use genetic analysis to detect the presence of and identify sponge and coral species.

The benefits of the EXPRESS initiative extend beyond this upcoming expedition. As of today, EXPRESS partners have completed 16 expeditions using vessels operated by NOAA, university, and non-profit oceanographic research institutions. Along the way, every agency and participating organization has contributed resources such as ship and submersible assets, science costs, modeling efforts, or personnel. 

The EXPRESS initiative highlights the efficiency of intra- and inter-agency collaboration, especially in terms of maximizing the capabilities of the NOAA (e.g., Lasker, Rainier, Shimada) and non-NOAA West Coast research fleet (e.g., MBARI's R/V Rachel Carson and the R/V Bold Horizon).

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