Carribean - Jacques Cousteau's Grandson Wants to Build the International Space Station of the Sea
Off the coast of Curaçao, at a depth of 60 feet, aquanaut Fabien Cousteau is looking to create the world’s largest underwater research habitat
In 1963, a saucer-shaped, yellow submarine returned from the depths of the Red Sea and docked to an underwater research center, 26 miles off the coast of Port Sudan and 33 feet below the surface. Aboard it was legendary explorer and oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, who captured the imagination of millions with his Oscar-winning documentary World Without Sun. "This is the first time an undersea boat has had an undersea base," Cousteau narrated as his slender figure climbed out of the submarine and into Continental Shelf Station Two, the underwater station that served as home and laboratory to five aquanauts for one month.
With Conshelf Two—a starfish-shaped habitat with bunk beds and infrared lamps as heaters—Cousteau proved that human beings can live under the sea for long periods of time. With its four rooms branching out from the center, it was a significant improvement from Conshelf One—a 16-foot long, 8-foot wide steel cylinder that could only fit two people. Funded by the French petrochemical industry, Cousteau’s Conshelf mission was halted just two years later, after Conshelf Three was set up at a record depth of 330 feet, and Cousteau shifted his focus from petrol-funded research to ocean conservation.
Much like the slew of single-mission habitats that followed Conshelf, not much remains of these underwater innovations. Plagued, in part, by a shift in public interest that triggered greater funding for space exploration, some have been pulled out of the water, others have become diving sites encrusted with coral growth. Today, the only operating underwater habitat remaining is 34 years old.
Cousteau's grandson, Fabien, is hoping to change that. The founder of the Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and preserving the planet’s oceans, coastal areas and marine habitats, is building the world’s largest underwater research station.
Named after the prophetic sea-god Proteus, the station will be located at a depth of 60 feet, in a biodiverse, Marine Protected Area off the coast of Curaçao. Imagined as the underwater version of the International Space Station, it will be the first underwater research habitat built in decades, marking a new chapter in their tumultuous history. “We're now in a new evolution of consciousness of ocean exploration,” says Fabien. “Thanks to modern technology, we're able to communicate the importance of ocean exploration.”