A rare opportunity has come up for recreational scuba divers to visit Florida’s Aquarius Reef Base, one of the world’s only undersea research laboratories – but it will involve a bidding war.
The habitat was built in 1986 but has been run for the past six years by Florida International University’s Centre for Coastal Oceans Research, which is now organising an online auction for four people to dive the site, five miles off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Lying at a depth of 19m, Aquarius is used to conduct marine-science research and train specialised divers such as military personnel and especially astronauts.
Over the years it has been the location for regular NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) programmes, with astronauts, engineers and scientists based in the habitat for extended periods of time.
The undersea laboratory also plays a central role in the Medina Aquarius Program, dedicated to the study and preservation of marine eco-systems, so opportunities for the public to enter the habitat and dive the protected reef around it have been very limited.
The prize package includes two dives each for two winning couples. The first dive will enable them to enter the Aquarius Reef Base for a tour, including lunch, and the second will be in the “research only” area surrounding the laboratory at Conch Reef.
The two couples will be accommodated overnight with dinner at Baker’s Cay Resort in Key Largo. All diving equipment except mask, fins and suit will be provided. The dives will take place on a date to be decided between the winners and Aquarius Reef Base.
Bidding is open to certified scuba divers aged 18 or more, with proof of fitness to dive and covered by medical insurance.
Proceeds from the auction will be split between Aquarius Reef Base and Friends of Rookery Bay, a non-profit organisation that supports Rookery Bay Research Preserve.
e-bidding for the prize, which is valued in total at US $8000, starts today (6 March), with $2000 the minimum bid.