Miami Herald –
The last underwater research lab in the world, an 81-ton yellow pressurized steel tube anchored 60 feet down next to a Key Largo reef, won’t be scuttled after all.
Florida International University announced Tuesday that it will take over operation of Aquarius, an aging but unique underwater facility the federal government had considered putting on the chopping block because of budget cuts.
“For our students and our marine sciences program, Aquarius offers fantastic new possibilities and is a natural fit for the work we are doing in the Florida Keys and throughout the world,’’ said Mike Heithaus, executive director of FIU’s school of environment, arts and society.
Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which owns the lab, had called for ending Aquarius’ operation, even though it cost a relatively paltry $1.2 million to $3 million a year to run.
But after backlash from scientists and a campaign led by South Florida political leaders — including Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart — NOAA awarded FIU a $600,000 six-month grant to cover basic maintenance of the facility, which boasts six bunks, a bathroom, galley, science lab and “wet porch” allowing divers easy entry and exit.