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Ninety-five percent of the sea is unexplored, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is on a mission to change that and map out the underwater world. The first step in exploring the ocean is exploring it, so in July 2017, a team of scientists journeyed to the unknown deep-water areas of the Johnston Atoll Unit of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in Hawaii's waters.
We are still exploring the depths of the ocean and discovering the creatures and plants that survive, and flourish under the sea. Scientists believe that the ocean, which covers over 70 percent of the planet, may be critical to our survival as humans and that it's important that we continue to explore it, document what we find and try to understand how it works.
After 24 hour dives earlier this year, the scientists involved in the exploration of the Johnston Atoll Unit took incredible footage of the landscape underwater that has been likened to an alien planet.
Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
While exploring "Ridge" Seamount, Okeanos Explorer, America's ship for ocean exploration encountered an alien-like community composed almost exclusively of glass sponges with their concave sides directed towards the current.
One of the scientists commented: "This looks like a Dr Seuss landscape."
As the camera panned over the eerie scene, another noted: "Every time we do these dives, all I can think about is, this is the type of experience someone would have if they found life on another planet."
The scientists describe it as a "Forest of Weird".
In the depths of the ocean, the water is still and the light from the underwater camera illuminates the vast array of multi-coloured sponges called farreid glass sponges on the ocean bed.
Glass sponges have silica skeletons which is the same material used to make glass which protects them from predators. They attached to hard surfaces and eat bacteria and plankton from the surrounding water.
One scientist noted that even though he has been involved in deep sea dives for five years, scenes like this are still surprising and alien.
"Even though I work on these sponges," a third scientist commented: "A scene like this just stuns me."
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 do we know what is out there if we aren't looking for it?
Featured Image Credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
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