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September 11, 2007

Contact: David Hall, NOAA Public Affairs
301-713-3066, ext. 191

NOAA Mission to Aquarius Underwater Habitat to Study Imperiled Reefs in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Scientists and educators from NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program will embark on a nine-day mission to the world’s only undersea scientific facility starting Sept. 17.

While living underwater in the Aquarius ocean laboratory, scientists will investigate changes to corals and marine life in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Webcast their activities in real time to students and general audiences via the education Web portal.

During the mission, dubbed Aquarius 2007: If Reefs Could Talk,” scientists will conduct research mainly on sponge biology and ecology and long-term monitoring of coral and fish species. Mission results will be compared with previously collected data, going back to 1994, to assess change on the reef, which may be due to anthropogenic climate change and associated natural variability as well as human contributions in the form of pollution. The mission will use advanced technology for underwater research combined with communications to create and broadcast web-based educational programming.

“Six aquanauts will be living and working in a state-of-the-art undersea facility for an extended time to test new equipment, learn new things about what makes reefs healthy, and update long-term data to measure what’s happening to the reef ecosystem in the Florida Keys,” said Steve Gittings, national science coordinator for the National Marine Sanctuary Program and lead scientist for the mission. “The findings will help us all better protect our fragile ecosystems for future generations.”

Located nine miles southeast of Key Largo, Fla., in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Aquarius lies 60 feet below the surface at the base of Conch Reef. The undersea research station is nine feet in diameter, 43 feet long, and can support diving to depths of 120 feet. The six aquanauts will live in Aquarius for nine days supported by a shore-based crew on watch around the clock. Real-time video, audio, and Internet feeds will provide high-resolution communications and an exciting virtual experience for the public, educators and students.

Aquarius is owned by NOAA, administered through NOAA’s National Undersea Research Program, and operated by the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s National Undersea Research Center.

“We are thrilled to join forces with the National Marine Sanctuary Program during this exciting mission to better understand and assess change on our threatened coral reefs and to bring the wonders of underwater living and science to students through the Web,” said Dr. Ellen Prager, chief scientist for Aquarius Reef Base.

NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program seeks to increase the public awareness of America's marine resources and maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, the sanctuary program manages 13 national marine sanctuaries and one marine national monument that together encompass more than 150,000 square miles of America's ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Commission of Fish and Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

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On the Web:


NOAA’s National Ocean Service:

NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program:



Virtual Dive to Aquarius:


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