IN THE OCEAN OFF KEY LARGO (CBSMiami) – A group of South Florida lawmakers put on their wetsuits Saturday and dove down under in the Keys to raise awareness about the future of Aquarius.
Aquarius is the world’s only undersea research station located three miles off Key Largo at a depth of 60 feet.
But its future is in jeopardy because the administration has cut Aquarius’ $3 million annual funding.
“What a shame this low cost operation has lost funding,” lamented Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who led the expedition.
Ros-Lehtinen was accompanied by her husband, attorney Dexter Lehtinen, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and Congressman David Rivera.
“At the end of December we will have lost the capacity to conduct missions,” says Program Director Tom Potts.
The fully equipped pressurized lab no bigger than a school bus allows scientists to rotate in and out to study the ocean, coral reef system and marine life.
“It’s a three-million-dollar program. A drop in the bucket compared to other oceanographic programs in existence,” said Potts.
“What we’re finding is there’s a lot of people who are interested and passionate about what we’re doing out here. We’ve conducted 277 missionis. We’re the longest and most comprehensive program in the Keys,” continued Potts.
“We’re at a tipping poin on the Coral Reefs. Everything is coming to a point where we are going to be able to predict what will happen in the future. Aquarius gives researchers the gift of time to understand what they are trying to study.
On Saturday the last researchers of the year, suited up and headed to the surface.
Lawmakers hope they will not be the last group to use Aquarius.
Then the contingent of lawmakers took their place to make their case.
“We’re hoping folks who are seeing us will go to Aquariusreefbase.org, to keep this lab going for generations,” Ros-Lehtinen told CBS4 News.
“When you are dealing with different issues the oceans have, whether acidity, temperature, or pollutants it is difficult to do, but here they have the time to do it,” added Diaz-Balart.
The goal is to raise one million dollars by the end of the year to keep Aquarius operating.
“This is the only place that does this kind of scientific exploration and it’s right here in our backyard. We can’t afford to lose it,” said Ros-Lehtinen.