Fabien Cousteau sits inside Aquarius Reef Base in 2012. If he is able to remain under water for 31 days, he will have lasted one day longer than his grandfather, Jacques Cousteau. Mark Widick/AP
Fabien Cousteau has been following in his grandfather Jacques Cousteau’s flipper-steps for years — scuba diving around the world and making underwater documentaries of his own. Now he’s seeking to break the elder oceanographer’s record for the longest period of time spent underwater.
In 1963, Jacques Cousteau and a team spent 30 days living in “Conshelf Two,” an underwater laboratory in the Red Sea. The younger Cousteau is currently in a similar undersea lab off the Florida coast — and he’s planning to stay there a day longer than his grandfather did. The project is named Mission 31, after his target number of days underwater.Jacques Cousteau filmed his underwater experiment for the documentary World Without Sun.Fabien Cousteau also is filming his project, but you won’t need to wait for a theatrical release. You can watch it live at mission-31.com.
The underwater lab that’s serving as the team’s temporary home is called Aquarius Reef Base. The 81-ton steel structure is located 63 feet beneath the water’s surface, according to the Mission 31 website. At that depth, Reuters reports, the water pressure is almost three times the pressure at the surface.
“The 25-year-old facility, built by the federal government, has hosted everyone from marine biologists studying endangered coral reefs to NASA astronauts training for weightless missions in space,” NPR’s Greg Allen reported in 2012, when the facility was grappling with the loss of its federal funding. (Currently, operations are supported by The Aquarius Reef Base Foundation.)According to CNET, Cousteau will be accompanied by two technicians, who will be staying with him for the duration of the project. Two cameramen and four scientists also will be involved, but the lab only has room for three of them at a time; they will swap out halfway through.
The scientists will be observing the effects of climate change and pollution on the reefs around the Florida Keys. While the length of their stay is a bit of a publicity stunt, the ability to spend days or weeks underwater does have real value to scientists, as marine researcher Sylvia Earle told Allen in 2012:
“This difference in perspective you get when you don’t have to bounce in and out — you have the ability to stay for hours and hours and watch that fish do its thing, or conduct an experiment without constantly looking at your watch saying, ‘I’ve got three minutes left, I’ve got to go.’ “
During their stay in the pressurized, climate-controlled Aquarius, Cousteau and his team will have wireless Internet access, and they’ll communicate with the public through video chats and social media. But The Associated Press reports that the underwater dwelling does lack a few key creature comforts:
The lab’s technological edge doesn’t extend to its kitchen area. “Unfortunately for me as a French person, the food also will be simulated. Freeze-dried, astronaut type of food, canned foods, things like that,” Cousteau said, grimacing.
Cousteau and his team took the plunge on Sunday, and will be resurfacing on July 2.
Update at 2:37 p.m. ET:
Amy Summers, who’s handling publicity for the Mission 31 project, clarifies that the mission isn’t about record-breaking; rather, she says, “the purpose of the mission is to honor the work that was done by Jacques Cousteau 50 years ago.”
Indeed, while Fabien aims to spend a day longer underwater than his grandfather did, the elder Cousteau didn’t technically spend a continuous 30 days underwater. He periodically returned to the surface to drop taped interviews into the mail.