Next spring, Fabien Cousteau, grandson of the legendary Jacques, will lead a 31-day mission, living in an underwater lab and exploring the mysteries of the deep. And you’re invited to come along. Read this article by Anne Dujmovic on CNET News.
Fabien Cousteau (pictured) is planning an undersea living expedition similar to one his famed grandfather undertook in 1963, but going deeper and one day longer. The Aquarius lab will be home base for 31 days.
(Credit: Kip Evans/Mission Blue)
Half a dozen half-naked men are sitting around, talking, drinking, and smoking in Starfish House, 33 feet below the surface of the Red Sea. It’s 1963. Among them is ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau — still clad in his silver diving suit — commandant of the first undersea village.
That scene comes early on in “World Without Sun,” the Oscar-winning documentary released in 1964. It provided moviegoers with a window into the underwater world of oceanauts living and working for a month in “inner space.”
Now, 50 years later, Fabien Cousteau, grandson of the famed ocean explorer, is planning a similar expedition but going deeper and one day longer. And you won’t have to wait for the movie to come out — you can watch Mission 31 unfold in real time.
Next spring, Cousteau and five others will dive down to Aquarius Reef Base, an undersea lab 63 feet down in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. They plan to make the school-bus-size lab their home for 31 days, while exploring the deep and conducting scientific research (yes, there’s a documentary in the works) — all the while broadcasting the mission live.
Fabien Cousteau on his grandfather’s shoulders in 1970.
(Credit: Mission 31)
“We’re in a whole new generation,” said Cousteau, 46, a filmmaker and ocean explorer like his grandfather. During the last half of the 20th century, film and TV audiences became immersed in the undersea world of Jacques Cousteau, who was 87 when he died in 1997. “The Internet was in its nascent stage at the end of his life, so he never got a chance to reach out through that medium,” he said.
Though time has advanced and so has technology, one thing hasn’t changed much. “The reality is that we’ve explored less than 5 percent of our ocean to date,” Cousteau said. So there are still a lot of stories to tell, and discoveries and adventures to be had, he said. “In essence we’re hoping to continue on where my grandfather left off.”
But it’s not just by symbolically going deeper and one day longer than the 1963 expedition, he said. “There’s a human-ocean connection that hadn’t really been fathomed — or certainly not enough — that we need to emphasize now.”
During the expedition, the aquanauts will conduct scientific research on how climate change, overconsumption, and pollution are affecting the health of the ocean. The aquanauts themselves will become specimens too, participating in experiments on the physiological and psychological effects of living under the sea — and without sun — for a month.
Cousteau describes Mission 31 as “an underwater classroom,” where he and his team will share their discoveries with viewers — through daily Skype video calls with students around the world, live reports on the Weather Channel, and real-time updates on social media.
“I think there’s a way to wow today’s generation in a way that [my grandfather] did, maybe by engaging them in a more real-time sort of way with more alternative kind of media,” he said.
The 50th anniversary of his grandfather’s experiment in undersea living, known as Conshelf Two, comes at an opportune time for updating our knowledge too, he said.
We’re also showing the wonders of the undersea world in a way that most people will never get a chance to see.”
— Fabien Cousteau
Get Cousteau talking about the changes he’s witnessed during his time in and around the ocean and he’ll take an Aquaman-like dive into the scientific research as well. Caused “just by the actions of one species,” the changes are both fascinating and scary, he said.
And he has a couple of decades’ worth of firsthand knowledge to draw on. Cousteau grew up on the decks of the Calypso and Alcyone, the ships that transported his grandfather and crew on many of their expeditions.
“You go to the Florida Keys, for example, and it’s a shadow of its former self,” he said. But take someone, say a 12-year-old, diving in that area for the first time? “They’ve never seen how it was, how it was supposed to be, which is this fireworks display of life that I grew up with, when I was 12 years old.”
The point of Mission 31 is more than going deeper and longer than Conshelf Two. “We’re also showing the wonders of the undersea world in a way that most people will never get a chance to see,” Cousteau said.
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