Six Things I Learned When My Boyfriend Went to Live at the Bottom of the Ocean

Undersea Adventures With Fabien Cousteau

I’m from the generation that takes their work home — but when you live with Fabien Cousteau, that takes on a whole new meaning.

Fabien’s work is also his legacy: As the grandson of Jacques Cousteau, he grew up passionate about the ocean and fascinated with what we still have to learn about its mysteries. Now as a filmmaker, oceanographer and activist, he is committed to learning everything he can about our oceans and preserving their precious depths.

Living with a Cousteau means constantly tripping over camera equipment and scuba gear, babysitting our pup for long stretches of time when he’s on expedition, eating avocado rolls at our favorite Brooklyn sushi spot rather than salmon, tuna and yellowtail, keeping up on the latest research about climate change, ocean acidification and pollution so I can follow conversations, and lastly, remaining nonchalant when he calmly informs me that he’ll be living in a fishbowl beneath the ocean’s blue veneer for the entire month of June.

During our eight years together, I’ve held down the fort while he’s headed out on expeditions to the Amazon rain forest, the North Pole, New Zealand, Qatar and wherever else his research may take him. Living with him has taught me to take his big plans in stride, like when he walked in and said, “Guess what? I’m going to spend 31 days living 63 feet under the sea!” (That’s his version of “Honey, I’m home!”) This was my first introduction to Mission 31 — his latest, coolest expedition to live and work at the bottom of the ocean for the entire month of June.

But after twelve months of planning, fundraising (I raised more than $600,000 towards the overall budget), connecting and more fundraising, the dream became a reality. Mission 31 was born. Fabien’s goal was to live, work and conduct science in the world’s only undersea habitat to showcase the ocean’s importance and inspire younger generations to consider science and technology as potential career paths. What the shuttle launch did for space, Fabien wanted to do for the ocean.

Fabien and his crew of aquanauts set off on their journey to live in a 400-square-foot tube, located nine nautical miles from Islamorada in the Florida Keys. The school bus-sized living chamber, known as the Aquarius, has six bunks, a toilet and a basic kitchen. Thankfully (for me!), it also has a 27/4 livecam and a Wi-Fi connection.

Now that he’s halfway through his 31-day endeavor, here’s what I’ve learned so far.

What does he eat?

Did you ever try astronaut food at a space museum? Freeze-dried spaghetti and meatballs, scrambled eggs and even ice-cream sandwiches are among the choices!

What does he NOT eat?

As the title character says in Finding Nemo, “Fish are friends, not food!” And, I can tell you that it’s been years since I’ve seen Fabien eat any sea life.

Who has come to visit?

Fabien has had some pretty stellar visitors pop by. So far the list includes Vampire Diaries actor Ian Somerhalder, marine biologist Sylvia Earle, Entourage star Adrien Grenier, and his father, ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau…not bad, right?

Her Deepness, Sylvia Earle, Conservation International’s Dr. Greg Stone and actor Ian Somerhalder
Actor Adrian Grenier waving hello to aquanaut Grace Young

What does he see?

Fish! Lots of fish. There is a kaleidoscope of life on the coral reefs surrounding the habitat and they’ve got a front row seat. There are often displays of coral spawning (essentially coral sex). During this time, corals undergo a wild and colorful spectacle known as broadcast spawning. During this time, coral colonies spawn like a snowstorm, releasing a blizzard of brightly colored bundles containing eggs and sperm into the open ocean. Plankton is seen by the millions too!

Credit: Fabien Cousteau

This is a shot outside of the habitat at night, when they often do much of their work.

A night dive photographed by Kip Evans. He is using a blue light that exposes zooxanthellae plants that live in the tissues of coral when he shone the light on the coral the coral then had a fluorescent yellow glow.

Between the fish, the coral and the color of the ocean, the sights from the Aquarius are simply breathtaking. You have to see it to believe it. Good news, you can! Here is access to the amazing Mission 31 videos and the livestream.

Who is joining him?

Fabien is surrounded by a top-notch team that includes cameramen from Changing Tides Media, budding scientists from FIU, MIT and Northeastern University and experienced divers. For the six team-mates living and conducting science experiments under the sea, there are at least thirty working on behalf of the team tirelessly day and night, topside. Two of the aquanauts are women and are providing a refreshing change of pace from what we normally view when we see underwater adventure programs.

Aquanauts Grace Young and Liz Bentley Magee

The science work is focusing on climate change, coral acidification, the effects of overfishing on the reef and pollution, specifically from plastic debris and even the BP oil spill.

Aquanaut Adam Zenone

One of the key benefits is the team is living at saturation depth, meaning they can go out and dive for 6-7 hours at a time, conducting experiments, filming and capturing images (without having to go back to the surface like traditional divers). For Fabien, this is his version of Disney World or actually, the Apple store.

Additionally, Fabien and team are doing daily Skype in the Classroom chats with school children all over the world. Just this last week alone, there were interactive sessions with kids in Kenya, the Czech Republic and Antartica.

What does he miss most?

C’mon, wouldn’t you too?

While I miss having him at home, it’s been so exciting watching this all unfold and experiencing first-hand, an adventure of a lifetime. In the meantime, here’s to an amazing second half of the epic Mission 31!

Photo credits: For those not listed above, credits go to Mission 31