Message from Directors

March 17, 2014

Florida International University completed its first year of operating the Aquarius undersea laboratory, the lab’s 21st year of deployment on Conch Reef, 20 meters beneath the surface next to coral reefs nine kilometers offshore of Key Largo, Florida. It was an exciting year that saw Aquarius come back online after a 12-month transition period that began in mid-2012 and included the relocation of the shore base command center to Islamorada.

In an abbreviated operations year, Aquarius hosted two very successful saturation missions: NASA’s Seatest II, which was the 18th astronaut training mission conducted aboard the habitat, and a mission led by four FIU students studying the ‘Ecology of Fear.’ A number of other science groups utilized the program’s research vessels and diving support capabilities to further their research.

Living beneath the sea continues to generate considerable media interest that resulted in hundreds of news pieces and features – including ABC’s Today Show, CBS This Morning and BBC Radio. The total audience for all media types – online and television video clips, print, social media and PRNewswire distribution – exceeded over 43 million!

A new education coordinator has developed a number of programs that have captured the attention of students nationwide. A five-day pilot project, Virtual Field Trips using Skype and Polycom technologies, brought undersea exploration science into classrooms from the Virgin Islands to California. This program was so successful that VTFs will now be a part of every mission going forward.

We continue to make improvements to Aquarius and add infrastructure enhancements, such as deploying a new digital PTZ camera and oceanographic data science node on the reef adjacent to the habitat. We have also refined protocols to use Aquarius in one-atmosphere mode. This mode of operation is especially useful for conducting live education events (e.g., giving a course lecture or hosting multiple outreach events), real-time testing of sensors and equipment where direct interaction and observation are preferred and stable power and Internet connectivity are required, and for project development prior to launching a full saturation mission.

While we already have saturations missions and day boat projects confirmed and 1-ATA training and education projects in development for the 2014 operations year, there are still openings available for research, teaching and training activities. We have refined our cost structure resulting in lower day rates than were previously advertised in the past. We are confident that former participants will find these rates competitive with similar assets while new or non-traditional participants will be encouraged to explore and propose innovative ways to use the Aquarius Reef Base.

We look forward to working with you.

Sincerely,

Dr. James Fourqurean
Director, FIU Marine Education and Research Initiative

Thomas Potts
Director, FIU Aquarius Reef Base