Guam – When Academy Award-winning director and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron continues his historic dives to the floor of the Mariana Trench, he will also visit the little-known Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.
The monument, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of its National Wildlife Refuge System and in consultation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is recognized for its exceptional geologic features and un-described or yet-to-be-discovered life forms in the most extreme environment on Earth.
On March 25, Cameron successfully completed his nearly 7-mile dive in a submersible to Challenger Deep, the deepest place known on Earth. His plans include a future submersible dive to the second-deepest place, Sirena Deep, within the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Although the date of the dive to Sirena Deep is not yet known, Cameron will be the first visitor ever to the Trench Unit of the monument. The Challenger Deep area is not within the monument.
Sirena Deep is remarkable for its steep walls, distinctive geologic features, and life forms not documented elsewhere at such depth, more than 30,000 feet. The deepest areas of the Mariana Trench are likened to an inverted chain of islands, where each “peak” points downward, but like islands, each feature can be geologically and biologically unique. Understanding what exists in the Trench and how life survives in such extreme environments is essential to its on-going conservation management as a marine national monument.
The historic dive expedition, known as DEEPSEA CHALLENGE (www.deepseachallenge.com), is a partnership between Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex, and takes place in a custom-built, 24-foot-long (7.3-meters) submersible co-designed by Cameron. Although best known for directing films such as The Abyss, Titanic and Avatar, Cameron is also an avid explorer. His historic first solo dive to Challenger Deep, and the first manned scientific collections at those depths, was his 74th submersible dive.
Cameron’s expedition team worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service in planning dives that comply with the monument’s conservation mandate. Expedition members assisted the Service during the manager’s review of the applications for scientific exploration and filming in the monument by providing scientific publications on human effects on the deep sea and advising on practices to minimize potential effects of future exploration of the monument. Monument partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also helped, providing their expert review.
Because the Trench Unit of the monument, which includes Sirena Deep, is also managed as unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System, two Special Use Permits were issued authorizing the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition to work in the monument. While stipulating measures to minimize possible impacts, the permits allow the collection of scientific specimens and samples and the making video and audio recordings. For example, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER must be rinsed with freshwater between dives to further reduce the unlikely possibility of introducing some microorganism from one dive site to another.
In addition to the unique scientific opportunities, Cameron’s expeditions promote the need to protect and preserve individual ecosystems of the planet, including deep sea locations.
“For more than 109 years, the National Wildlife Refuge System has conserved the nation’s most important fish and wildlife habitat,” said Refuge Chief Jim Kurth. “The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument protects one of the most unique ocean environments in the world. It is a place we know precious little about. Like the other three marine national monuments managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Mariana Trench is little explored. But we do know one fact, irrefutably: these natural resources are unique and irreplaceable. I can’t think of a more important message that Mr. Cameron’s exploration will send to his legions of young fans. After all, it’s their legacy that he is giving us a lens into. We are committed to be good stewards of this incredible place”
The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument is approximately 95,216 square miles (roughly the size of Oregon) and consists of submerged lands and some of the waters of the Mariana Archipelago within three designated units. The Trench Unit and the Volcanic Unit are also managed as units of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Presidential Proclamation 8335 established the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument in January 2009 and assigned management responsibility to the Secretary of the Interior, further delegated to the National Wildlife Refuge System of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Management of fisheries-related activities was assigned to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The two agencies consult and coordinate with each other in their management of the monument, in addition to coordinating with the local governments of Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, the U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Defense, and Department of State. Local citizens of the Mariana Islands and interested people from around the world are also involved in trench monument conservation management through non-governmental organization partners, including the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument.
Dr. Douglas Barrett of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition’s chief scientist, said the extremes of low temperature, high pressure, darkness, and altered nutrients in deep-sea trench environments have influenced the evolution of life far below the waters’ surface on our planet.
“Deep sea life includes diverse microbes – the engines of biogeochemical cycles – and also fauna waiting to be discovered,” Barrett said. “The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument is the only protected trench on Earth, and although less visible to Americans than Yellowstone or Yosemite, it should be no less cherished.”
Learn more about the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument at http://www.fws.gov/marianastrenchmarinemonument/
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