2016 Hohonu Moana: Exploring Deep Waters off Hawai'i

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From February 25 to March 18 2016, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer will explore largely uncharted deep-sea ecosystems and seafloor in and around the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM). During the Hohonu Moana 2016: Exploring Deep Waters off Hawai’i expedition, our at-sea and shore-based science teams will work together to make some of the first deepwater scientific observations in this area. The expedition will commence in Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian Island of Oʻahu and conclude at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

On this page: Why? | Who? | Highlight Videos & Images | Press Releases | Background Info | Contact Info

Why This Area?

The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is one of the largest fully protected conservation areas under the U.S. flag and one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. The Monument encompasses 139,797 square miles of the Pacific Ocean (362,073 square kilometers) – an area larger than all the country's national parks combined.

The Monument is home to more than 7,000 species, a myriad of geological features, significant cultural features, and a variety of post-Western-contact historic resources, including aircraft and vessels from World War II. More than 98 percent of the Monument’s seafloor lies below 100 meters and its deepwater resources are far less known than its shallow-water counterparts. These deep areas likely include many secrets yet to be discovered by scientists workign with the Okeanos Explorer.


Why Is This Work Important?

The expedition will provide a foundation of publicly accessible baseline data and information to support science and management needs in and around the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The effort also provides critical information about emerging regional issues like deep-sea mining and the potential U.S. Extended Continental Shelf.

Themes and objectives for this expedition include:

  • Acquire data to support priority monument and sanctuary science and management needs.
  • Discover and characterize vulnerable marine habitats, particularly high-density deep-sea coral and sponge communities and cultural heritage sites.
  • Collect data and geologic samples to characterize seamounts within the Prime Crust Zone.
  • Collect information on the geologic history of central Pacific seamounts, including those that are or may be relevant to our understanding of plate tectonics and spreading centers.
  • Collect high-resolution mapping data in priority areas.
  • Provide a foundation of publicly accessible data and information products to spur further exploration, research and management activities.


Interesting Highlights

The expedition will include 24-hour operations consisting of remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dives and mapping operations.

  • Daytime ROV operations will focus on depths between 250 and 6,000 meters and will include high-resolution visual surveys and limited geological sample collection. All dives will be live-streamed so scientists and the public can follow along.
  • Mapping operations will be conducted overnight and when the ROV is on deck.

The 2016 Hohonu Moana expedition marks the second year of a three-year NOAA campaign to explore and understand the central and western Pacific marine national monuments and sanctuaries. In 2017, field activities will shift back to the central Pacific and likely include areas extending from the vicinity of the Hawaiian Archipelago south to the equator. Priority areas include Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll, Jarvis Island, Howland and Baker Islands, and the Johnston Atoll portions of Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument; the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa; and Rose Atoll Marine National Monument. Additional work in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area  and Musicians Seamounts is also under consideration.

The expedition involves a number of NOAA partners including National Marine Fisheries Service’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Pacific Islands Regional Office, and Office of Habitat Conservation's Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program; National Ocean Service’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries; Office of Marine and Aviation Operations; NESDIS National Centers for Environmental Information; and Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.



Activities during the expedition will be primarily led by the individuals listed below. They will coordinate input from multiple scientists participating from shore to plan dives, are the voices you hear on the live video feeds, and are primary participants in outreach events. For a full list of our on-ship team, please visit this page.


Dr. Daniel Wagner—Science Co-Lead
Research Specialist, NOAA Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

Daniel Wagner

Daniel Wagner received his Ph.D. in biological oceanography from the University of Hawaiʻi in 2011. Prior to that, Daniel received a B.S. in biology from Hawaiʻi Pacific University in 2005, and an M.S. in biological oceanography from the University of Hawaiʻi in 2008.

Daniel has conducted research on Hawaii’s deep-sea reefs for more than a decade and participated in over 20 research expeditions that have surveyed deepwater habitats using technical SCUBA diving, manned submersibles, and remotely operated vehicles. Daniel is interested in the taxonomy, life history, and ecology of deep-sea corals, particularly of black corals.

He is serving as a co-science lead during the first ROV expedition to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and will help coordinate the science objectives during the expedition.


Jonathan Tree—Science Co-Lead
Graduate Student, University of Hawaiʽi at Mānoa

Daniel Wagner

Jonathan Tree is a graduate student at the University of Hawaiʽi at Mānoa, finalizing his master’s degree in geology and geophysics. His research is focused on understanding the geologic history of the Hawaiian hotspot. To better understand the evolution of the hotspot, he uses multiple methods including the geochemistry and geophysical data of the Hawaiian volcanoes that are 5 to 45 million years old. Jonathan is originally from Colorado where he completed undergraduate degrees in geology, biology, and mathematics and developed his interest in the geology of volcanoes while conducting research on an extinct volcanic field in southwestern Colorado. Jonathan has been involved in multiple at-sea expeditions in the region of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and is excited be heading back out to sea to further explore these seamounts.


Brian Kennedy—Expedition Coordinator
NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

Brian Kennedy

In his role as expedition coordinator, Mr. Kennedy is responsible for overseeing all aspects of an expedition, including arranging logistics, planning science operations, and coordinating public outreach. He has participated in or led more than 25 expeditions of exploration that have taken him to two oceans (Atlantic and Pacific), three continents (North America, South America, and Asia), and through the waters of six countries (the U.S., Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Indonesia). Originally from landlocked Athens, Ga., Mr. Kennedy grew up fascinated with marine mammals and the ocean. He holds a B.S. in marine biology with a minor in marine geology from the College of Charleston, in South Carolina, and is a former member of the NOAA Commissioned Corps.  


Mashkoor Malik—Mapping Lead
NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

Brian Kennedy

Mashkoor earned his master's in Ocean Mapping from the University of New Hampshire in 2005. He has been with NOAA since 2008 and served as the onboard mapping lead on the Okeanos Explorer from 2008-2013. From 2013-2015, he worked with the NOAA Office of Coast Survey. He rejoined OER in July 2015 as a Mapping Team Lead, where he is responsible for the ocean mapping systems onboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. On shore, Mashkoor works in Silver Spring, Maryland, where he contributes to expeditions through data processing and archiving, operational planning, and mapping product development.



Highlight Video and Images

Dive highlight videos, short video clips, and photos will be posted online as they are available.

Please see the Contact Us page for information regarding specific media, public, and government inquiries.

Access LIVE video feeds here

Expedition home page



Press Releases



Important Background Information

  • NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is America’s ship for ocean exploration. The NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) is coordinating the mission on the ship, which is operated by the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. OER is the only federal program dedicated to systematically exploring the ocean.

  • Anyone with an Internet can follow the expedition — LIVE. The same technology that allows scientists around the world to participate in the expedition from shore also enables interested members of the public to experience deep-sea exploration, the wonder of discovery, and the fascination of science in real time through the Internet. Additionally, mission logs, daily updates, and multimedia elements will be added to the website throughout the ROV leg to keep everyone up to speed.

  • Wise management of ocean resources is critical, but we can’t manage what we don’t know — and that’s why we explore. Even as the importance of deep areas of the ocean in our everyday lives continues to increase, our knowledge of these areas remains limited. In many instances, humans are “flying blind” when it comes to things such as regulation and resource use in deepwater areas. OER provides information from some of the most inaccessible parts of the ocean to scientists and resource managers, giving experts access to basic information about the habitats and life forms found there and enabling them to make management decisions and prioritize future research efforts.

  • The ocean is important to our survival, yet remains poorly understood. The ocean plays a role in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the transportation of the goods we buy--not to mention weather and climate change. Many fisheries are based in deep waters, as are new sites for offshore energy production and deep-sea mining. The deep sea may also hold cures to diseases. How will we know what is out there if we aren’t looking for it?

  • Data collected on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer are quality assured and then made quickly available to the scientists and the public. Collected data are used by scientists and resource managers to plan follow-on research, make management decisions, detect natural hazards, improve nautical charts, enhance climate models, and more. In addition, our data are preserved for applications that have not even been thought of yet.

  • Mapping is the first step of ocean exploration. Having the maps done beforehand allows us to best plan ROV dives (Leg 3). Between the second and third legs of the expedition, the academic community and habitat/resource managers will have the opportunity to review collected mapping data and weigh in on and suggest potential dive sites, which will be decided on in consensus-building series of discussions.



Contact Information

Please see the Contact Us page for information regarding specific media, public, and government inquiries.