- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014

KEY LARGO, Fla. (AP) - On July 14, 1992, aquanaut Richard Presley surfaced from a lagoon in Key Largo, ecstatic to see “the colors, the sun and all these palm trees” after 69 days and 19 minutes of living in the sea.

It was a world record.

There was hope the effort would spark renewed interest in underwater habitats, which exploded onto the world scene in the 1960s and ‘70s with more than 60 located in 17 countries but died off in the 1980s for lack of funding.

That didn’t happen, and for the past 22 years, no one attempted to break Presley’s record. Until now.


Two educators from a college in landlocked Tennessee - one a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran turned biology professor and the other a 24-year-old adjunct professor - plan to take the plunge Oct. 4 in the same Emerald Lagoon where Presley made history.

If all goes according to plan, Bruce Cantrell and Jessica Fain of Roane State Community College will re-emerge 72 days later from the 600-square-foot underwater habitat - which also serves as the Jules Undersea Lodge - with a new record.

More importantly, they hope to surface with the successful completion of their primary mission: to engage young people in marine biology and underwater exploration.

“We’re not conducting experiments; we’re not trying to discover any new species,” Cantrell said. “Our main goal is to be able to broadcast under the water to show kids what it is like and to get them excited that this science is real.”

From the habitat, Cantrell will teach an online biology class to his students back at Roane State. And the duo will host a once-a-week live broadcast, available free online, on ocean topics. The feat should be easy considering that in 1995, ocean pioneers Scott Carpenter and Ian Koblick spoke from the habitat to astronaut Mike Gernhardt, who was aboard the space shuttle Endeavour.

The programs will feature experts and celebrity guests, including astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon.

“Buzz will talk about Mars and how we can learn more about exploring Mars by being in the weightlessness of the ocean,” said Koblick, who owns the habitat and is founder of the Marine Resources Development Foundation, a partner in the project.

“We are not doing this just to set a world record, which would just be a publicity stunt,” Koblick said. “I want to do this to get a message out about the status of our oceans. That’s why our program title is: ‘Our Seas - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.’ ”

Other program topics will include underwater archaeology, the Caribbean’s lionfish invasion, the effects of climate change on the oceans and the success of coral restoration.

Koblick, of Key Largo, wrote the book Living and Working in the Sea. In 1969, he worked on the Tektite I mission, in which four U.S. Department of Interior scientists set what was then the saturated diving record of nearly 60 days in a federally funded underwater habitat in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Koblick also has lived under the sea several times; his longest stint was three weeks in Tektite in 1970. That was followed a few years later by a couple of two-week stints in La Chalupa Research Laboratory, which he developed and operated in more than 100 feet of water off the coast of Puerto Rico until funding ran out in 1976.

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