Achieving Excellence

Since 1993, the Aquarius undersea lab has supported 120 missions, producing over 600 peer-reviewed scientific publications along with numerous popular science articles, educational programs, and television spots. The Aquarius Reef Base is also supporting one of the longest running and detailed coral reef monitoring programs in the world, an ocean observing platform, and surface-based research in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

In Science

  • Started in 1994, scientists have established a coral reef and fish monitoring and assessment program to investigate change in the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary and better understand the impacts of climate change, human influences, natural variability, and the effectiveness of marine reserves. Early results show the better condition of deep reefs as compared to those in shallow water. Continued studies will provide managers vital information in their efforts to protect Florida’s valuable reefs through ecosystem-based management and restoration strategies.
  • Discovery of internal waves regularly impinging on reefs, bringing a 10 to 40-fold increase in natural nutrients, which is much greater than previously published estimates from nearshore pollution sources.
  • The first descriptions and identification of a disease pathogen that devastated large hard corals in the Florida Keys, including important information about the distribution, abundance and potential causes of black-band disease. In another study a conclusive link to terrestrial runoff was discovered in a disease that killed large numbers of an ecologically important coral species throughout the Keys and Caribbean.
  • New understanding of the magnitude and importance of sponge filtering on a coral reef; findings show it to be 10 times greater than measured in a laboratory setting and having an important influence on water quality.
  • Used undersea drilling techniques to improve our understanding of the history of reef growth in Florida.
  • Discovered the importance of water flow in coral feeding and have provided surface support for long-term coral spawning studies.
  • Improved our understanding of herbivore interaction and influence on the coral reef ecosystem, this is important as fish and algae populations change on reefs worldwide.
  • Testing of a new underwater spectrophotometer and some of the first underwater measurements made of UV light.

In Safety and Technology

  • Excellent safety record; regarded as a model for standards and training by Navy saturation diving program.
  • Since Aquarius operations began in Florida in 1993, technology has continually been upgraded and remains state-of-the art in saturation diving for ocean science.
  • Barge tending the habitat was replaced with high-tech Life Support Buoy (LSB) and mission control relocated to shore base.
  • Communications system upgraded to allow broadcast quality video and audio feed from Aquarius and nearby work sites to shore, winning a national business award. Internet access and video conferencing made available to Aquarius.
  • Addition of umbilical diving capabilities with communications and helmet cameras.
  • Robotic undersea vehicle piloting capabilities from inside the habitat.
  • Upgraded to diver-controlled tank fills at waystations positioned up to 1000 feet away from Aquarius.
  • Ocean observing platform established with connection to shore and Internet, sensors powered by wind generator and solar panels; only ocean observing site with adjacent seafloor lab and in situ service for over 280 days per year.
  • Partnership with NASA to train astronauts and develop technology for lunar exploration and asteroid translation.
  • Partnership with Navy to train divers and develop technology for future saturation systems.

In Education and Outreach

  • Hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students have assisted in research during Aquarius Reef Base missions and surface diving operations.
  • Web site established and upgraded, including live web cams, new design underway, receives about 50,000 visits per mission.
  • Two Jason Project missions, reaching over 1,000,000 students in the U.S. and across the world with live broadcasts, specially designed curriculum, and enabling student aquanauts to visit the undersea lab.
  • Television programming on National Geographic, Discovery, ABC News 20/20, NBC Today Show, CNN, Learning Channel.
  • Public-oriented articles in Scientific American, Weekly Reader, National Geographic, Smithsonian, Geotimes and more.
  • Numerous presentations done at national events, aquariums, schools, science centers and museums; some with live links to aquanauts living underwater.
  • Student writing contest, scouting programs, summer internships

The Aquarius Reef Base is owned and operated by Florida International University (FIU).