World's Only Undersea Laboratory
Three and a half miles offshore and about sixty feet underwater in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary stands the world’s only undersea laboratory known as Aquarius Reef Base. But, the laboratory has been cut from next year’s federal budget, and is short of a few million dollars. Its days might be numbered unless scientists can raise money on their own and find another independent budget.
But why is it so important to save this laboratory? Read on to find out.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a Federal Agency and the State of Florida, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2900 square miles surrounding Florida Keys. The Keys are a chain of islands off the tip of Florida peninsula in the US that extend into the ocean for 100 miles. These islands are exposed portions of an ancient coral reef. We had written here about how coral islands (also known as atolls) form from the limestone deposits made by small organisms known as polyps. In the Keys sanctuary you can find unique and magnificent marine resources including over 6,000 species of aquatic life!
Built in 1986, Aquarius Reef Base is dedicated to Marine Science and has made exploring the ocean much simpler. It has given scientists a temporary home while they explore the ocean, thereby saving time. For instance, it is much more convenient than scuba diving, which only gives you an hour as you would have to return to the surface. Aquarius Reef, on the other hand, can give you as much as fourteen days! Scientists dive from the lab and when they are done for the day, they return there instead of heading back to the surface.
Marine biologists use the lab as a home base to study coral reefs, various types of fish and aquatic plants. Dives from the Aquarius can last up to 9 hours at a depth of 95 feet. This allows divers to make observations and conduct experiments without constantly having to worry about time -- a ten-fold increase in productivity than diving from the surface! Not only does Aquarius Reef contribute to Marine science, it also helps scientists understand chemical warfare and worldwide pollution. Astronauts from NASA are sent down to the laboratory for training before taking on a mission in space.
The shutdown of this laboratory that has helped scientists discover innumerable things about coral reefs, fish, pollution, and much more over the past twenty-five years would be an immense loss for the world of Marine Science.