Oceanic study is one of the most critical arenas of science, as we know that life on Earth could not exist without our planet’s vast oceans. Our discoveries have not only led to improvements in medicine and other aspects of life on land, but they have helped us to understand how to care for and improve life in the oceans in order to sustain the planet. But oceanic study is not the easiest research to carry out, given that humans are ill-fitted to endure aquatic environments. The advent of SCUBA diving revolutionized the field of marine research, but even that carries limitations. To get the most information possible from the subject of study, it is essential that you be absorbed in that environment. This philosophy is how the Aquarius Reef Base was born.
Situated in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Aquarius Reef Base is the world’s only underwater laboratory. Surrounded by deep coral reefs, Aquarius sits atop a 13-foot platform in 63 feet of water, placing the people working within the habitat at 50 feet below the surface. It might not seem like much, but their position gives them the unique ability to facilitate dives that extend upwards of 9 hours at one time, with no need for decompression when going back into the habitat. Scientists can stay in the module for up to 10 days, and while quarters may be a bit more cramped than those at home, every basic need is attended to with hot showers, flushing toilets, refrigeration, and even air conditioning.
The Aquarius undersea lab has been integral to no less than 114 separate missions, including monitoring and assessment of key coral reefs of Florida, isolating compounds in marine animals that are useful to medicine, and even training NASA astronauts how to live and operate in a weightless environment! In addition to the benefits that are provided to people, the Aquarius has become a living, thriving reef since its placement in 1993. Many corals, reef fishes, and invertebrates now call the Aquarius home, and the harmonious relationship between the marine world and the human world is made possible through extraordinary labs like the Aquarius Reef Base.
Because Aquarius is owned and operated by NOAA, the funding comes primarily from grants, public and private donations, and fees for use of the facility by NASA, the US Navy, and others. However, US budget concerns have resulted in denial of government funding to the Aquarius, which means all the research, studies, and ongoing work will cease if they are not able to amass the funds necessary to meet their annual budget. That is why conservationist group One World One Ocean will be live-streaming their mission to the Aquarius and the work carried out there, in an effort to raise public awareness of the Aquarius Reef Base, and why its operation is vital to everyone. The live stream action begins July 16 — here’s a little preview of what you can expect to see: