MIAMI — The grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau will embark on a monthlong stay inside an undersea laboratory off the Florida Keys in an attempt to break a half-century-old record set by his late grandfather.
Cousteau and two more so-called “aquanauts” plan to spend 31 days at a depth of about 60 feet (18-meters) in a 43-foot-long laboratory named Aquarius in the waters off the Florida Keys, monitoring marine life and filming the environment. It sits on a patch of sand near deep coral reefs about 9 miles south of Key Largo, Florida.
“There are a lot of challenges physically and psychologically,” said Cousteau, 46, who was born in Paris and grew up on his grandfather’s ships, Calypso and Alcyone.
Cousteau will be living and working underwater with a team of researchers and documentary filmmakers. If he succeeds in spending the entire time submerged, Cousteau will beat the 30-day underwater record set 50 years ago in the Red Sea by his grandfather.
Dozens of other undersea labs around the world have been mothballed because of high costs. In 1963, Jacques-Yves Cousteau along with a half-dozen divers he dubbed oceanauts spent 30 days inside an undersea lab called Conshelf II near the Port of Sudan.
Aquarius is air conditioned with wireless Internet access, a shower, a bathroom, six bunks and portholes that give the occupants a 24-hour view of the surrounding marine life.
The living space is at a depth where the atmospheric pressure is roughly two-and-a-half to three times that at the surface. It will be pressurized to prevent decompression sickness, when human tissue absorbs gases like nitrogen in dangerously high volumes.
Beyond the otherworldly experience, the benefit of living underwater is it will help scientists with their day-to-day research and data collection.
Researchers studying the effects of coral bleaching — when warming waters prompt the living coral to expel the colorful algae living inside — will depart Aquarius at the crack of dawn each morning to study the reefs’ energy production before the day begins.
“Day in, day out, our science schedule is pretty repetitive. I think the documentary guys are going to get bored,” said Andrew Shantz, a Ph.D. candidate in marine ecoscience at Florida International University, who will spend 17 days in the lab.
They will re-emerge from Aquarius in scuba gear around noon and after night falls to collect additional data that would be impossible without the underwater lab.
“You end up getting these structured, regimented observations that you don’t get on a single dive,” Shantz said.
Researchers will host Skype interviews with classrooms around the world and will have several dives to study wildlife and coral reefs surrounding Aquarius.
“This is the first time the public will be able to take part in a Cousteau expedition live,” Cousteau said.
“My grandfather would’ve loved it.”