June 11, 2014

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By Deb Castellana

Imagine if you will, a life support pod at the bottom of the sea. About the size of a city bus, Aquarius sits in 63’ of water inside the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Currently operated by Florida International University, Aquarius was almost closed due to lack of funding in 2012. Mission Aquarius, during which Mission Blue’s Dr. Sylvia Earle lived below for a week, was eloquently documented by One World One Ocean. Through the efforts of many who shined a spotlight on Aquarius as a unique and valuable asset to science, Aquarius received a stay of execution. In her time, she has served an important role, hosting NASA astronauts in training, coral scientists, climate change experts, journalists and statesmen.

Fabien Cousteau, grandson of ocean legend Jacques-Yves Cousteau is currently attempting to break his grandfather’s longstanding 30 day record for living on the bottom of the sea by remaining at depth in Aquarius for 31 days, hence the name, Mission 31. 

The timing couldn’t be more perfect – it’s the 50th anniversary of Conshelf II, as well as today,  it’s Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s birthday! We have to believe that the man in the red watch cap would be grinning from ear to ear to see his three fellow ocean explorers, together on the bottom of the sea.

But Saturday was one for the history books – a trifecta of ocean royalty reunited down under: two generations of the Cousteau family: Fabien and Jean-Michel, accompanied by none other than Her Deepness, Dr. Sylvia Earle. 

Sylvia Earle and Jean-Michel Cousteau (c) Kip Evans Photography / Mission 31

Said Dr. Earle, “I knew Jacques Cousteau. Here we have Jean-Michel and Fabien coming together, it’s really a milestone in the history of diving. The Cousteau legacy lives on!”

“I really want Aquarius to continue to succeed and inspire the world about what it’s like to be in the ocean.” 

Inside, we find Fabien Cousteau and a team of Aquanauts living & working for 31 days. The only sun they see is filtered through the blue/green tint of the tropical Atlantic ocean in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. And the noise doesn’t let up inside Aquarius – ever.

Aquanauts Fabien Cousteau,  Kip Evans and Mark Hulsbeck with Sylvia & Jean-Michel (c) Kip Evans Photography / Mission 31

Aquanauts Fabien Cousteau, Kip Evans and Mark Hulsbeck with Sylvia & Jean-Michel (c) Kip Evans Photography / Mission 31

And what does one do when one has the opportunity to live 24/7 on the ocean floor? Fabien is engaged in almost non-stop Skype Sessions and interviews with global news outlets from CNN to the Weather Channel to the BBC. Aquarius is equipped with lightning fast wireless internet, and comms are a certainly a very different story now than when Jacques lived in the Red Sea for 30 days in 1963. This time, the world can watch the aquanauts 24/7 through the habitat’s live feed. 

Fabien is accompanied by a crew of aquanauts, who will be remaining at depth for differing durations. Some will stay the full 31 days, and some will depart early next week allowing for a new shift of scientists and photographers to descend to the habitat.

Sylvia enters Aquarius through the moon pool. (c) Kip Evans Photography / Mission 31

At Mission Blue we are particularly proud – and a lot jealous – of our Director of Photography and Expeditions, Kip Evans, who is working on Mission 31 and living in the blue for the first two weeks.

More than simply counting off more days than his grandfather did, Fabien’s vision for Mission 31 is to show the world the vital human-ocean connection that is often overlooked. Three main topics will be the focus throughout Mission 31: climate change and its evil twin, ocean acidification; ocean pollution, particularly the effects of plastics; and overconsumption of resources with specific focus on the decline of biodiversity.

Photography and Video: © Kip Evans / Mission 31

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  • martha Watkins gilkes says:

    It was wonderful to see Dr Earle and Jean michel diving together in this epic event. I am honored to know them both and so appreciate all they do to protect our oceans.

  • Maggy says:

    My ocean heroes! So inspiring! As always Deb you wrote a wonderful article.. Thanks for keeping us in the loop. Much ocean love to you all. =)

  • Lisa Robertson says:

    Such a joy to see you all together! Live long, we have
    so much more to do.
    Stay safe and wild!

  • Mavis McRae says:

    Great article Deb. And yes, jealous here too but really happy that Kip is there to send back pictures from the deep. So wonderful to see all of them together making a difference. There is some blue hope 🙂

  • Captain Joel S. Fogel says:

    Doesn’t get better than this ……! 🙂

  • sharon says:

    I am a fortunate person, to have met Sylvia, Jean-Michel, and Fabien on several occasions. those moments are not to be forgotten, and, their legacy lives on in all that I can do!

  • sharon says:

    this was an epic meeting, to be treasured for generations! thank you all!

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