The last month has been quite a monumental one in the life of Fabien Cousteau, grandson of undersea ocean explorer and conservation advocate, Jacques Cousteau. Fabien has certainly stepped into his grandfather's shoes and he is just as passionate about the ocean as his grandfather was.
Just a few miles off the shoreline of the Florida Keys and approximately 63 feet below the ocean's surface, the Aquarius Reef Base can be found. This is the only underwater research lab of its kind in the entire world. It is an invaluable work tool and although its future was in jeopardy at one time, thanks to the generosity of National Marine Sanctuaries and Dr. Sylvia Earle, along with others, the Aquarius and FIU have a bright future ahead in the world of underwater research. Although there were underwater labs in the past, the dynamics changed and funding became tight and soon they all but disappeared.
For the past 31 days, Fabien Cousteau has made this base his home away from home for a two-fold purpose. Cousteau has a documentary in the works on his exploration and research and although we may not be able to see it in theaters until early 2015, there will possibly be an opportunity to view the teaser at the Blue Ocean Film Festival that takes place this November in St. Petersburg, Florida. In addition, Cousteau was closely studying the ocean biodiversity and the effects that pollution and fertilizer runoff have on our reefs.
After returning to the surface this week and going through the decompression process, Fabien sat down on Friday, July 3, 2014,with WLRN Miami to discuss some of the highlights of his adventures 63 below the ocean's surface. Viewers were encouraged to send in questions via Twitter and the discussion was stimulating and vastly fascinating.
From the 600 pound decoy Goliath Grouper who confronted a four foot barracuda to watching the Christmas tree worms fire off their sperms like smoke rising from a chimney, there were many exciting moments undersea. Fabien recalls that some of the technology that his grandfather pioneered, Fabien is now using in his expeditions.
When asked for some information about corals, Fabien was eager to talk. Florida has the largest coral formation in North America and it serves a multitude of purposes beyond being beautiful. It is a habitat, a nursery, a shelter, a weigh-station and a barrier for storm surges. Over 70% of the biodiversity in the ocean makes their way to the coral reefs. When corals are taking part in the reproduction process, it can only be described as an upside down snowstorm. If we continue to overfish our waters, or climate change continues to become a driving issue, our coral reefs are in danger, but Cousteau went on to describe the sponges of the Florida Keys as well. There are hundreds of different types of sponges in our waters, and some, such as the barrel sponge, have been around for over 2000 years. They contribute greatly to the health and prosperity of the reef. However, what Cousteau did find was that when cold water upswellings occur, the circulatory systems of the sponges are shut down for a matter of hours which endangers the entire ocean eco-system.
It was an amazing conversation and just listening to Fabien Cousteau made me realize how much we should appreciate our oceans and the marine life that calls it home. He encourages coral restoration projects to restore the magnificence of our oceans and keep them in a state of euphoria for the future.
When you think back to the time of Jacques Cousteau and his dream of underwater villages in the future, we are almost at that point now and it is thrilling. China is in the process of developing an underwater village at this time and research labs are being discussed for next steps in Dubai and Europe and even the United States may see another sometime in the near future.
Just thinking about all the possibilities is breathtaking and should make all of us proud to be scuba divers!