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Has every place on Earth been explored by humans or are there still places no one has seen?
— Margaret B., Grade 3

Marine ecologist Kate Holmes answers this question:

Hi Margaret,

There are still some places on Earth  that have not been explored much by people. 

The ocean is one of these places. It covers more than 70% of Earth's surface, and it contains many types of ecosystems. We know a lot about some of these ecosystems, like the mangrove  and kelp  forests that surround our coastlines, and the polar seas  at the North and South Poles. But we still have much to learn about remote and mysterious places like the deep sea .

The technology we use to explore the ocean continues to get better and better. People can now send robotic Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to dive deep into the ocean. Scientists operate the "robot" from a ship on the ocean surface. At the seafloor , the ROV can take pictures and videos, and even use a robotic arm to collect water and rock samples.

A Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) exploring the seafloor

A Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) explores the seafloor.

The ROV brings back valuable information that scientists can use to help protect and conserve marine organisms and habitats . For example, in 2006, scientists sent an ROV deep into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Washington State. They were able to learn more about deep-sea corals and sponges that can be easily damaged by commercial fishing equipment.

pictures of deep-sea corals and fish

An ROV took these pictures of deep-sea corals and fish.

Unlike the oceans, almost every place on land has been visited by people. By using new technology, scientists can now learn more about remote places that are difficult for us to travel to, such as areas that are very cold, very wet, very dry, or very high.

In some of these places, scientists are also discovering new species! For example, in 1992, a new mammal species called the saola was discovered in the thick forests of Vietnam. (And some new species are even found in familiar places. In 2002, researchers found a new species of centipede living in the leaf litter in Central Park, New York City.)

As we document and learn about plant and animal species around the world, we can help understand how they live and how we can best protect them.

Soala

This saola photo was taken by a camera trap. No scientist has seen a saola in the wild!

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Kate Holmes

Name:
Kate Holmes

Job Title:
Biodiversity Specialist, Center for Biodiversity & Conservation

Known For:
Kate is a marine ecologist. She investigates the design and function of marine protected areas in the Bahamas. Kate has helped with marine conservation projects around the world, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Barbados, Ecuador, and Canada.

Cool Fact:
Kate goes SCUBA diving to observe the coral reef  off of the Palmyra Atoll, a ring of islands in the Pacific Ocean. The SCUBA equipment allows her to stay underwater for a long time. With measuring instruments, a notebook , and a camera, she surveys and documents the plants and animals that live there.

Image Credits:
 Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), courtesy of NOAA; deep-sea corals and fish, courtesy of NOAA; saola, © European Commission - Social Forestry and Nature Conservation; Kate Holmes, © AMNH.