The oceans of the world still hold vast mysteries for intrepid explorers to discover. In fact, only about five percent of the entire ocean system on the planet has been explored. This Sunday, a team of explorers will dive into the waters off Islamorada, Florida, near Key Largo, for a true ocean adventure–a project called Mission 31. Leading the team is a man who has a name that is virtually synonymous with underwater exploration.
Fabien Cousteau is the first-born grandson of the much-beloved Jacques Cousteau. Almost 50 years ago, the elder Cousteau led a mission in the Red Sea. For 30 days, a group of explorers lived in a village which was underwater. This time around, a new group of aquanauts will spend 31 days doing much the same thing.
Fabien Cousteau is also a filmmaker and explorer, doing research that is in a similar vein to his grandfather’s work. The younger Cousteau says “It’s hard to turn your back on the ocean, once you have been immersed in it, because it’s such a fantastic world.” He says he feels free and at home in the ocean.
That home for the next month is a full 63 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in waters off the coast of Florida. A living reef, the Aquarius, weighing in at 81 tons, is the planet’s only research lab that is underwater. Inside there are bunks to sleep six, air-conditioning and a small kitchen. The entire lab is as big as a school bus.
Andrew Shantz, a PHD candidate at Florida International University, will be visiting for a week during the mission. He says that the reality of it probably will not settle in until the first night, when he sits down, gazes out a window and realizes that he is surrounded by fish.
The rare opportunity to experience this mission, though exciting, will require a lot of hard work. The team will be conducting experiments and research on the impact of plastic pollutants on marine life, as well as climate change effects. The lack of downtime is made bearable by the small amount of personal space. Shantz said that he will bring three books and a set of headphones for entertainment. The remaining space will be filled with his work.
The technological advances made since the original mission are numerous. One thing that has not changed is the utilization of pressurized painting pots for the safe delivery of dry towels, electronics and food to Aquarius. A major difference is that the young Cousteau has a WiFi connection.
The ability to share the experience through Instagram pictures, Facebook posts and Twitter chats gives Cousteau a better connection with the outside world and supporters than his grandfather had. The adventures will also be available for viewing on a livestream, and there will be classroom sessions via Skype, in which students from around the world will have the chance to join the mission electronically.
Mission 31, diving in at gorgeous Islamorada, Florida on June 1st, is the perfect start to National Oceans Month. It honors the legacy that Jacques Cousteau created by connecting humans to the oceans. Cousteau believed that if an individual has the opportunity to live a life that is extraordinary, “he or she has no right to keep it to themselves.”
By Stacy Lamy