MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only operational underwater research center, will now by operated by Florida International University.
FIU has received a grant to continue maintenance and monitoring of the facility for NOAA in 2013.
The grant will enable FIU to develop a new business model to fund operations at the Aquarius Reef Base which is located on the ocean floor, three miles off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Aquarius was a government-funded underwater research lab until the Obama administration cut its funding last year. Without private funding, Aquarius was scheduled to shut down at the end of December.
FIU’s new business model is expected to include research and education activities supported by federal, state and local government funding, as well as fees for services from science and engineering teams which use the facility. Donations from private benefactors also will be key to ensuring the future of Aquarius.
FIU biology professor Jim Fourqurean is the director of the Marine Education and Research Initiative for the Florida Keys in SEAS, and he will be overseeing activities at Aquarius Reef Base. The existing Aquarius team will become FIU employees.
“Rapid changes in the environment that supports the beauty and economy of South Florida make the observation post of Aquarius even more important,” said Fourqurean. “It gives us a unique vantage point to understand how changing climate, fishing pressure and threats from pollution and oil and gas exploration and production will impact our coastal environment.”
Aquarius provides unparalleled means to study coral reefs and the ocean, test state-of-the-art undersea technology, train specialized divers, and to engage the imagination of students and the public across the globe in ocean science, coral reefs, conservation, and underwater technology. The undersea lab even offers training opportunities for astronauts headed to space.