The year 2020 was and will remain a period in history. But here we are in 2021 and we are moving forward as well as celebrating the positive things that happened over the last year and even before. One ocean milestone of note this year is that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Exploration’s marked its 20th year of discovery. This program has been venturing into oceans around the world in various vessels and vehicles with an array of evolving technology to learn about the places on earth that most people never see.

What is now NOAA, began in 1807 as the Survey of the Coast. It included ships like the Experiment, a wooden schooner that dropped weights overboard to measure the ocean’s depth using a technique called sounding from 1835-1839. That resulted in the first bathymetric, or depth maps, of our country’s coast. Now, the modern Okeanos Explorer roams the seas equipped with sophisticated sonar along with myriad other instruments. It has been in operation for the last ten years and helped to map nearly 750,000 square miles of the seafloor. You can see the information it has collected on the National Centers for Environmental Information website (

In addition to the Okeanos, NOAA also has a remotely operated submersible called the Deep Discoverer. It can collect information on the seafloor and take samples in places where people cannot go – like four miles under the water. Deep Discoverer has helped with over 700 expeditions and programs over the last 20 years. These range from places like the dark places in the Marianas Trench to the sunny topical ones like the coral forests. You can see what it sees at:

These visuals along with the stories of the last two decades of NOAA’s Ocean Exploration Program have been put together in online story maps you can view through their website. There are old photos of exploration ships and maps as well as videos showing the newest discoveries in remote places under the sea.

The amount of information you can dive into figuratively is astounding. But this just literally scratches the surface. By NOAA’s calculations, only about 46% of the country’s oceans and Great Lakes have been mapped to the degree that modern technology allows. Globally, the figure is as low as 20%. Tackling the remaining portions is part of NOAA’s strategy for the next two decades – deep water by 2030 and nearshore waters by 2040. This is part of a larger global project called Seabed 2030 to map the ocean floor around the world.

On a more local level, Brunswick has done a great job mapping its coast and making more of that data available to the public. Part of the reason for this effort is to better understand the shellfish resources along the edges of the town. Much of this can be seen on the town’s website. If you click on the “Marine Resources” tab and scroll to the bottom of the page, there is a link to the 2019 Shellfish Inventory Surveys that is loaded with maps. A user-friendly pamphlet of coastal access points, the “Guide to Brunswick Rivers and Coastal Waters”, can be found under the Brunswick Rivers and Coastal Waters link.

The local maps are also helpful for understanding how impacts on land affect the water – like the shellfish closures that resulted from the recent rains as a part of last week’s Tropical Storm Elsa. There is a list of currently closed local areas on the town’s website as well as a link to a map of the entire state showing measurements of water quality ( Finally, our coastal maps are useful for guiding permitting and building along the shore. The Town Planning Department uses them to assess density of properties and their potential impacts on the coastal waters.

Whether you dive deeply in to explore faraway places or learn more about the ins and outs of Brunswick’s local waters, there is enough to keep people learning for far longer than the next twenty years. Who knows how the tools and technology will have evolved by then and how much more we will have discovered.

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