FIU students descend on Aquarius

Laura Bhatti

Laura Bhatti is studying the consequences of overfishing and its effects on coral reef ecosystems. Though she has visited the Aquarius Reef Base before, this is her first time saturation diving.

“I think the most challenging part will probably be feeling a little claustrophobic,” said Bhatti, about the 400-square-foot undersea research laboratory.

But the FIU marine biology advisor and Ph.D. candidate wasn’t going to pass on this thrilling opportunity.

“Because we’re interspersing it with cool things and cool science, I’m sure it will be well worth it,” she said.

The special diving capability of Aquarius, called saturation diving, allows scientists to work underwater up to nine hours a day without fear of getting the bends, compared to one hour if they were diving from the surface. Increased research time is the key element that enhances scientific productivity beneath the sea.

Prior to her week-long stay at Aquarius, Bhatti’s research in professor Deron Burkepile’s lab has relied on traditional diving methods for data collection.

“Being able to get out and do the research at times of day when I normally wouldn’t be able to come out to a reef is a major benefit for me,” she said. “Behavioral observations are really valuable, in addition to how much longer I can spend at these depths to do the research.”

The Canisius College graduate shared these missions take months of preparation.

“Not just from the Aquarius guys maintaining the habitat, but providing surface support, training, there’s a lot that goes into one of these missions,” she said. “I’m really excited and feel really privileged to be involved in the FIU mission.”

– By Jamie Giller

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