Fabien Cousteau, grandson of legendary aquanaut Jacques Cousteau, and his team of researchers and filmmakers emerged from the watery depths of the ocean on July 2 after spending all of June—plus one day—underwater.
Mission 31 Accomplished
Cousteau and his team worked from the world’s only undersea lab, Aquarius Reef Base, 63 feet below the ocean’s surface off of Key Largo, Florida. The group spent 31 days in the school bus-sized laboratory.
Mission 31, as the expedition was known, was conceived by Cousteau as an homage to his grandfather’s Conshelf underwater living experiments from the 1960s. The junior Cousteau’s mission went 30 feet deeper and one day longer than Conshelf Two, Jacques’ lengthiest and most successful aquatic mission.
The unique setting allowed the Mission 31 team to dive for up to nine hours a day. They were able to complete an unprecedented amount of research in a relatively short span, conducting several months’ worth of study in just over four weeks. “You’re able to discover a lot more,” Cousteau said. “Discover new species and the interconnectivity and the wonders of […] our planet, and why it is that it’s important for us to pay attention to it.”
Even after a month without sunlight or fresh air, Cousteau still wishes he and his team had more time. “Maybe this should be Mission 62 instead […]” he told CNET halfway through the mission. With a week to go, Cousteau noted, “If anything, I’m panicking about the lack of time we have left. I’m feeling really comfortable and happy down here.”
FIU & Northeastern Research Teams
For the first half of the expedition, Cousteau was joined by researchers from Florida International University, which operates and maintains Aquarius. After 15 days, the FIU team shipped out and were replaced by a scientific team from Northeastern University.
In addition to their research on the effects climate change, overconsumption, and pollution are having on the ocean, the team also filmed hours of footage for short- and long-form documentaries. The entire mission was also broadcast live online.
Because Cousteau and his crew spent so much time underwater, approximately 16 hours of decompression were required for them to resurface without getting the bends. Cousteau said that, while long-term underwater habitation is technically possible, it would best be reserved for further scientific study. “If it’s for science, education, outreach, filmmaking, those sorts of things,” he said, “this is a great platform for that.”