The team lived in an underwater habitat for 30 days, while Cousteau filmed his Oscar-winning documentary, “World Without Sun.” Five decades later, his grandson Fabien is also pushing the boundaries of marine science and discovery with his own underwater living experiment, Mission 31. On June 1st, Fabien Cousteau and his team of five aquanauts began a 31-day residency at the last underwater habitat and research lab on Earth, the Aquarius Reef Base in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The mission, which seeks to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original Conshelf Two experiment, while breaking new records and furthering marine research, will see Cousteau outdo his grandfather’s record by one full day. Located in 63 feet of water off the coast of Key Largo, the Aquarius Reef Base measures 400 square feet and is twice as deep as the elder Cousteau’s Red Sea base. Aquarius is pressurized, so divers can spend extended periods of time underwater with no decompression; the base also features bunk beds and cooking facilities. Thanks to technological advances in the last 50 years, Fabien Cousteau’s time underwater will differ markedly from his grandfather’s in that it will be broadcast live online; interested parties can keep track of the mission’s progress through constant social-media updates. Cousteau will also use Skype to deliver daily video broadcasts to classrooms around the world.
The Conshelf Two expedition investigated the possibility of establishing underwater bases, from which man could more easily harness the ocean’s resources, while Jacques Cousteau believed that overpopulation would someday force humanity to find living space beneath the sea. In contrast, Mission 31 is focused less on what the ocean can do to save us and more on what we can do to save the ocean. Before taking the plunge, Fabien Cousteau reminded the media that, “whether you care about economics, in your personal life or your business life, whether you care about your health or your child’s health, whether you care about saving creatures, it all pertains to making sure that our oceans are healthy. And our oceans are not.”
In line with his conservationist principles, there is much more to Cousteau’s Mission 31 than attempting to break an existing record. During their stay at the Aquarius, which is owned by the U.S. government and run by Florida International University, Cousteau and his team will conduct a series of extensive research experiments on the surrounding coral reef, which will focus on three issues in particular: climate change and the resulting threat of ocean acidification; ocean pollution with an emphasis on the effects of plastics; and overconsumption of resources with a specific focus on the decline of marine species. Scientists from Florida International University and Northeastern University will assist with the research aspects of the mission, and Cousteau’s team is expected to spend up to nine hours each day conducting studies with scuba gear. In addition, physiological and psychological tests will be carried out on the team to investigate the effects of living without sunshine and under pressure for an extended period of time.
As well as contributing vital information to ongoing scientific research projects, Mission 31 will be the subject of both short- and long-form documentaries shot by Cousteau’s production team, Bonnet Rouge. The team will be using state-of-the-art sonar technology capable of creating 3-D video images, further enabling those on dry land to experience his adventures. According to Cousteau, “the overarching theme for Mission 31 is the human-ocean connection within the lens of exploration and discovery,” a connection that he hopes to both encourage and strengthen through this project. Cousteau has produced several documentaries on sharks and other marine-related subjects, but he’s particularly excited about Mission 31. “For the first time, I’m able to invite the world on a Cousteau expedition in real time,” he says.
Jacques Cousteau is widely considered the founder of modern recreational scuba diving, not only because he invented the aqualung with Emile Gagnan in 1946, but also because his documentaries and books sparked a passion for the ocean in people across the world, motivating them to become divers themselves. Through the continuous and inclusive coverage generated by Mission 31, Fabien Cousteau will try to continue his grandfather’s legacy, inspiring a whole new generation of divers, marine scientists and ocean conservationists.
To watch the adventure unfold, go to http://mission-31.com/watch-live/.