The ocean is a busy place…and it’s getting busier. Activities such as oil, gas, and mineral exploration and extraction are moving farther offshore, bringing seabed infrastructure. Communication fiber optic cables and offshore wind turbines are other examples of seabed infrastructure that is becoming more common in the offshore environment. Fishing fleets and cargo ships are regularly traveling along the coast and beyond.

This increased activity comes with potential economic benefits, but also with risks to both our safety as well as to the health of potentially vulnerable marine life. We can’t protect ourselves, economically important resources, or sensitive marine habitat without knowledge of what’s out there.

High-resolution seafloor mapping is a critical tool for regulating underwater resource exploration, extraction, and equipment, allowing us to decide what and where is safe. Seafloor maps also ensure that ships are able to safely maneuver around natural – and human-made – structures on the ocean bottom. And, these maps provide information vital to protecting and tracking marine life, allowing us to characterize marine habitats and make decisions for solid, sustainable conservation measures.

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This video shows the cumulative multibeam mapping coverage of the Toms Canyon complex at the U.S. continental shelf break 93 miles east of Atlantic City, NJ. This data was collected by NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer through a series of cruises under the project ACUMEN (Atlantic Canyons Undersea Mapping Expeditions), which focused on exploring the numerous submarine canyons that stretch from Cape Hatteras to the U.S.-Canada maritime border (and beyond).