NOAA 03-054
Contact: Jana Goldman

NOAA News Releases 2003
NOAA Home Page
NOAA Public Affairs


What looks like a bright yellow school bus that took a wrong turn and ended up in the ocean is really the world’s only underwater habitat and laboratory where scientists studying coral reef health and resources can work and live for up to 10 days underwater. Owned by the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and operated by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Aquarius begins its 2003 research schedule May 19 after successfully completing two short training missions in March and April. NOAA is an agency of the Commerce Department.

“There is no better situation for coral reef researchers than to live among their subjects,” said Barbara Moore, director of NOAA’s National Undersea Research program (NURP). “Aquarius provides unique opportunities for the study of coral reefs to help us make better decisions about these valuable marine resources.”

Located at a depth of 60 feet in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary three and a half miles offshore, Aquarius also has been in used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to prepare astronauts for shuttle missions and to evaluate medical aspects of space flight.

Those topside can read daily logs from the scientists, view live web cameras that display marine life near Aquarius and aquanauts living inside, and take a virtual tour of the habitat at:

The first research mission May 19-28 will be “A Study of Population Dynamics of Hard Corals on Conch Reef: A Demographic and Population Genetics Approach.” The principal investigator is Mary Alice Coffroth of SUNY-Buffalo. Coffroth’s work, part of a two-year study, investigates the growth and reproductive biology of important reef building corals. The work is designed to help predict the future condition of Conch Reef, home to Aquarius, and how marine protected areas might act to sustain coral populations throughout Florida.

Aquarius’ other scheduled missions are:

  • June 16-29: Space Simulation and Training Project: NEEMO V.
    Principal Investigator: Bill Todd, NASA/United Space Alliance.
  • July 14-23: Flow Modulated Metabolism: Connection with Coral Bleaching and Reef Oxygen Crises. Principal Investigator: Dr. Mark Patterson, College of William and Mary.
  • Aug. 11-20: Responses of benthic macroalgae to high frequency upwelling on the Florida reef tract. Principal Investigator: Dr. James Leichter, Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
  • Sept. 15-24: Biogeochemical control on the stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic composition of marine sponges along natural environmental gradients. Principal Investigator: Dr. Chris Martens, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Nov. 10-19: Herbivore resistance to seaweed defenses and the effects on reef community structure. Principal Investigator: Dr. Mark Hay, Georgia Institute of Technology.

The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through research to better understand weather and climate-related events and to manage wisely our nation's coastal and marine resources.

On the Web:

NOAA at: