FIU announces science team for historic Mission 31

FIU students to accompany Fabien Cousteau on 31-day expedition at the Aquarius Reef Base

Four researchers, including two students from Florida International University, will descend on the Aquarius Reef Base June 1 to take part in Mission 31, led by ocean explorer and documentary filmmaker Fabien Cousteau.

Cousteau will be joined by FIU marine science students Andy Shantz and Adam Zenone, along with onboard technicians Mark Hulsbeck and Ryan LaPete from FIU’s Medina Aquarius Program. This will be the second mission to Aquarius for Shantz and the first for Zenone. Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Grace Young, Northeastern University researcher Liz Magee, and cinematographers Kip Evans and Matt Ferraro will round out the aquanaut team, which will be divided into two research segments lasting two weeks each. Cousteau, Hulsbeck and LaPete will remain submerged for the entire mission.

Fabien Cousteau visited the Aquarius Reef Base in 2012. He will return to the underwater research facility in June to embark on a 31-day mission.

Fabien Cousteau visited the Aquarius Reef Base in 2012. He will return to the underwater research facility in June to embark on a 31-day mission.

Cousteau, first grandson of famed ocean explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau, will spearhead the research and education outreach mission in honor of the 50th anniversary of his grandfather’s Conshelf Two mission.

The FIU students will conduct experiments for ongoing research at FIU that explores how coral reef ecosystems will respond to climate change, pollution and fishing. They will study the basic biology and physiology of the corals and sponges on the reef. They also will investigate how seawater chemistry is influenced by coral reef organisms and nearby ecosystems including the deep ocean, seagrass beds and mangroves. In addition, Shantz and Zenone will conduct experiments to determine how important the large predatory fish – prized by fishermen and disappearing from reefs around the world – are to maintaining healthy coral reefs.

“The research being done by FIU students during Mission 31 is not only on the cutting edge of marine sciences, but it is really important for ensuring healthy coral reefs here in Florida and around the world,” said Mike Heithaus, executive director of FIU’s School of Environment, Arts and Society. “By taking advantage of the gift of time that Aquarius gives us, the students will be able to accomplish months and months of work in just a couple of weeks.  Even better, they will be able to inspire kids around the country by talking to them live from the bottom of the ocean during live chats.”

During their time underwater, the FIU students will deploy new state-of-the-art equipment that can provide enhanced understanding of the marine ecosystem in the area. This includes the new scientific wideband echosounder provided by Norway-based Konsberg Maritime called SIMRAD, which allow researchers to quantify fish density near Aquarius, and a high-resolution imaging sonar called ARIS provided by Soundmetrics, which will enable the scientists to non-invasively measure prey responses to predators both day and night. Also, Australia-based Myriax has provided advanced processing software that will enable the scientists to combine sonar and video data sources to help evaluate changes on the reefs during the 31-day mission.

The world’s only underwater research lab, Aquarius is deployed 63 feet beneath the sea off the coast of Key Largo in Florida and allows scientists to live and work underwater for extended periods of time. Since 2013, it has been operated by FIU. Mission 31 will be the third saturation mission for FIU’s Medina Aquarius Program and the longest saturation mission in the history of Aquarius.