Four divers with $4,500 to spare can join the limited ranks of people who slept underwater inside Aquarius Reef Base. Reef Environmental Education Foundation teamed up with Florida International University, which operates the undersea research lab, to offer the special expedition March 5 to 10, 2017.
Scientists use Aquarius Reef Base, 60 feet deep in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, to study the ocean, test and develop undersea technology, and train astronauts. Fewer than 1,500 people have worked inside the base, with only 392 spending a night there, Sylvia Earle and Fabian Cousteau among them.
The Base is beyond cozy, only 43 feet long and nine feet in diameter, but eight portholes look out onto the surrounding waters. Frequent sightings through these windows include large tarpon, goliath grouper, barracuda, and sea turtles in addition to schools of reef fish.
When staying in the habitat, scientists use a technique called saturation diving, where the body absorbs the maximum amount of nitrogen for the depth at which they work, allowing them to dive up to nine hours per day as deep as 95 feet with reduced risk of decompression sickness. The habitat’s interior atmospheric pressure remains equal to surrounding water pressure (about 2.5 atmospheres) and missions wrap up with more than 15 hours of decompression as pressure inside slowly returns to match that at the surface. Since 1993, 120 research missions in Aquarius have produced more than 600 peer-reviewed scientific publications.
The REEF group will spend three days diving in the Keys before descending to Aquarius. The evening there includes a lecture and dinner, with breakfast served the next morning before divers return to the surface. The pressure inside Aquarius will be adjusted so that this night is not a saturation dive.
The cost includes four nights of lodging topside in Key Largo, three days of two-tank dives, and classroom sessions with REEF and Aquarius staff each day in addition to the night below. Expedition leaders Lad Akins, REEF director of special projects, and Ellie Splain, education program manager, have both spent time in the habitat before.
To get a spot, submit an interest form online, and a REEF staff member will follow up regarding confirmation of space and payment instructions.