Jacques Cousteau's grandson pays tribute by trying to beat undersea record

Fabien Cousteau

Third-generation oceanographer Fabien Cousteau will attempt to spend a record 31 days living and working underwater in a bus-sized laboratory submerged in the warm, turquoise Atlantic off the Florida Keys. If he succeeds he will beat the 30-day underwater living record set 50 years ago in the Red Sea by his scuba-pioneering grandfather, Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

"We're doing something unprecedented," said the 45-year-old who grew up on the decks of his grandfather's ships, Calypso and Alcyone. "It's the risk of discovery, it's the curiosity, it's the adventure. It's going beyond that box that we always live in and are comfortable with, to learn something new."

While submerged, Cousteau and his five-person team plan to Skype with school children in classrooms around the world, make a 3D IMAX documentary, measure the effects of underwater living on their own bodies, count the fish and chart the pollution levels in the surrounding waters, experiment with coral-growing techniques and test the newest underwater motorcycles. "It'll be a packed schedule," said the Paris-born Cousteau, who divides his time between France and New York.

"This is a huge endeavor and we definitely need to take advantage as much as possible." He and his Mission 31 team plan to take the plunge on Sept. 30 and surface on Halloween at the Aquarius habitat in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The cylindrical 43-foot (13-meter) laboratory sits on a patch of sand near some deep coral reefs about 9 miles (14.5 km) south of Key Largo. It is owned by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and run by Florida International University. NASA has used it to train astronauts for the isolation and weightlessness of space.

LIKE A FISH

Aquarius is the last undersea laboratory still operating, "the best-kept secret in the oceans," Cousteau said. Dozens of others around the world have been mothballed due to high costs. Aquarius is air-conditioned and has a shower, a bathroom and six bunks, and portholes that give the occupants a 24-hour view of the abundant marine life. The living space is at a depth of 50 to 60 feet (15 to 18 meters), where the atmospheric pressure is roughly 2.5 to three times that at the surface.

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