Florida Keys News
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
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Cousteau mission delayed to spring

KEY LARGO - A 31-day mission to the underwater laboratory near Conch Reef is on hold until April.

Filmmaker and explorer Fabien Cousteau had planned to splash into the water on Nov. 12, but citing the government shutdown and holiday season, he is delaying his monthlong mission at the Aquarius Reef Base. Cousteau is the grandson of the late legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau.

"Aborting is probably a good call," Cousteau told the Free Press Monday. "This mission is complex and costly."

Cousteau said his team, which plans to conduct research and film their endeavors, was days away from the beginning of the mission when it was called off.

"Once you push the go button, there's no stopping," he said.

Cousteau had initially timed the event for this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his grandfather's 30-day Conshelf Two mission in the Red Sea in 1963.

Florida International University's Jim Fourqurean, who runs the Aquarius, said he already has four trips to the undersea lab lined up for next year.

For Aquarius, the federal government shutdown delayed conversations to continue funding for the laboratory, which is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and operated by FIU.

The underwater station, which located about 6 miles off Key Largo, has a life expectancy of about 10 more years, before officials must decide whether to reinvest or shutter the project.

Leading up to April, Cousteau said he plans on ramping up fundraising efforts. In addition to a crowdsourcing campaign, he is also promoting the event through speaking tours.

Before FIU took over operation of Aquarius in January, effectively forestalling its closure, the world's only undersea research station was run by the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, which abandoned it due to budget cuts.

The cost to use the Aquarius for Cousteau's mission is about $10,000 per day plus $70,000 for topside operations. As for Cousteau's other expenses, including his filmmaking and personal crew, the tab will likely be triple what he is paying FIU.

For the university and Aquarius, Cousteau's venture should garner world-wide publicity and, with that, the prospects of more financial support to keep the base operating.

jgore@keysnews.com

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