Titanic discoverer sets sail in Santa Barbara Channel

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A famous ocean explorer (and UCSB alum) is out on the Santa Barbara Channel making new discoveries. Robert Ballard is best known for discovering the RMS Titanic in 1985. Now, his 211-foot ocean exploration vessel Nautilus is o ut mapping the seafloor within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

You can watch them in real time here.

Ballard told KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian that some of these areas have never, ever been mapped before.

KCRW: What have you mapped so far?

Ballard: There’s unbelievable terrain out there. We were scaling the sides of steep underwater mountains with ecosystems living at each level. We were going to areas in the marine sanctuaries where no one has ever been.

Why are these maps necessary?

Most people don’t know that 50 percent of the U.S. lies beneath the sea. It has tremendous things to offer our society, whether it’s marine sanctuaries, new fisheries, or minerals, oils and gas.

What makes the Santa Barbara ocean floor unique?

I’ve never seen so many whales and dolphins as I have the last few days, and that’s because the water is rich with nutrients. The reason it isn’t crystal clear is because it’s full of life. This is a very high productivity area.

Why is that?

The Humboldt current is coming down from Alaska. The colder water is, the more carrying capacity it has for nutrients. But, very important is that you can’t over-fish here. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) become the areas animals can come from. And I think we’re getting the fishing industry to realize how setting aside areas where fish are protected is going to guarantee there’s going to be fish.

How will people use this data?

If the National Marine Sanctuary is managing the sanctuary, they need to know what they’re managing. What are the hot spots down there? Certain areas have an intensity of life, other areas are a desert. In many cases, there’s no oil and gas potential. In other cases there is. How do you deal with these conflicting interests? Well, first you have to know the facts. So, the data is helping them be more sophisticated in their management decisions.

We’re also using the excitement of what we do to motivate the next generation.