FIU has been awarded a grant to continue stewardship of the Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only operational underwater research center.
As a member of the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Science CIMAS, FIU received a grant to continue maintenance and monitoring of the facility for NOAA in 2013. This will enable FIU to develop a new business model to fund operations at Aquarius. NOAA’s National Undersea Research Program, including Aquarius, was not included in the president’s fiscal 2013 proposal, however, NOAA recognizes that the Aquarius Reef Base is a unique and valuable asset to the scientific community. The new business model would include research and education activities supported by federal, state and local government funding, as well as fees for services from science and engineering teams from government and industry that use the facility. Donations from private benefactors also will be a key to ensuring the future of Aquarius. A photo of Aquarius can be found here.
“Aquarius offers tremendous research opportunities, and we’re ensuring that the investment of American taxpayers continues to provide critical research results to the country,” said Mike Heithaus, executive director of FIU’s School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS). “For our students and our marine sciences program Aquarius offers fantastic new possibilities and is a natural fit for the work we are doing in the Keys and throughout the world.”
FIU biology professor Jim Fourqurean is the director of the Marine Education and Research Initiative for the Florida Keys in SEAS, and he will be overseeing activities at Aquarius Reef Base. The existing Aquarius team will become FIU employees.
“Rapid changes in the environment that supports the beauty and economy of South Florida make the observation post of Aquarius even more important,” said Fourqurean. “It gives us a unique vantage point to understand how changing climate, fishing pressure and threats from pollution and oil and gas exploration and production will impact our coastal environment.”
Aquarius provides unparalleled means to study coral reefs and the ocean, test state-of-the-art undersea technology, train specialized divers, and to engage the imagination of students and the public across the globe in ocean science, coral reefs, conservation, and underwater technology. The undersea lab even offers training opportunities for astronauts headed to space.
“Living and working in Aquarius is perhaps the closest thing on earth to actually being in space,” said William L. Todd, program manager for Exploration Analogs at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Todd commanded the first-ever NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) at Aquarius in 2001. NEEMO is a joint NASA-NOAA program to study human survival in the underwater laboratory in preparation for future space exploration.
“Aquarius allows our astronauts to conduct unique undersea missions that closely resemble the tasks, timelines, operations and even spacewalks that will be conducted on long duration space missions,” Todd said.