July 20, 2013
Return To A World Without Sun
In 1963, Jacques Cousteau and a team of five divers lived in an underwater habitat, Conshelf II, for 30 days at the bottom of the Red Sea to research the effects of deep sea living. On September 30, 2013, his grandson Fabian Cousteau will try it again.
“I hope we recapture the magic, mystery and beauty of the ocean which my grandfather was able to offer the world for so many decades,” said Fabien.
CNN reports that the younger Cousteau’s underwater adventure will begin approximately 8.5 miles off the coast of the Florida Keys. Sixty five feet under the water is the world’s only underwater laboratory, Aquarius – a steel capsule about the size of a school bus – where Cousteau and his team will spend a record-breaking 31 days.
Dubbed “Mission 31,” the team of six aquanauts will examine the physical and psychological effects of underwater living, and the impact of climate change on the ocean. The part that makes me think of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is the space-age underwater motorcycles the team will use, for 9 hours a day, to examine marine life, coral reefs, and ocean acidity, which is linked to carbon emissions in the air.
“It’s very much in the same spirit of adventure and exploration as in my grandfather’s day,” said 45-year-old Cousteau. “But by default we’re living in a time where human impact is directly related to the ocean’s health.”
“The ocean contains 99% of the planet’s total living space. That said, we know so little about it — just 5% has been explored.”
The biggest difference between the two missions is the media coverage. When the elder Cousteau spent a month below the Red Sea, we all had to wait for him to come back up, edit all the footage and release his film to learn what he had experienced. Fabien’s mission, on the other hand, will be connected every step of the way. The Weather Channel will have rolling coverage, the team will Skype video calls to classrooms, and there will be Facebook and Twitter updates. Eventually, there will even be an IMAX movie. The team will even have celebrity guests, like Virgin business magnate Richard Branson and pop singer will.i.am.
This mission will be the longest attempted aboard Aquarius; the previous record was 18 days. Such a mission is not without risk. In 2009, diver Dewey Smith died after his equipment malfunctioned outside the lab. To mitigate those risks, the team will spend 15 days in extreme training; including diving 65 feet underwater, taking off their masks, being spun around to lose their bearings and then having to find their way back to the lab.
“The point of training is to make sure we’re prepared for every situation,” said Cousteau, who has been diving since he was four. “Once your veins are fully saturated in nitrogen you won’t be able to go back to the surface because of the decompression sickness — we’ll have to slowly come back up over 24 hours.”
Fabien wants to share the bewitching realm of the ocean, which he learned to love growing up playing on the deck of his grandfather’s boat. He is concerned that more people have travelled into deep space than the deep sea.
“My grandfather said people protect what they love. But how can you protect what you don’t understand?”
My only question is this; will they get the nifty red hats, too?
Image Credit: Thinkstock.com