KEY LARGO, Florida—After a record-breaking 73 days living underwater, two local college professors surfaced Monday and enjoyed the feel of sunlight for the first time in more than two months.
They also celebrated the end of their mission to educate the public about ocean conservation, to inspire young people’s interest in science, and to make history.
Biology professor Bruce Cantrell and adjunct professor Jessica Fain from Roane State Community College in East Tennessee spent the fall living and working in Jules’ Undersea Lodge, an underwater habitat on Key Largo in Florida. Their underwater stay lasted 73 days, two hours, and 34 minutes, breaking the world record for longest time spent living underwater.
The two educators submerged October 3 at 12:08 p.m. EDT and surfaced on Monday, December 15, at 1:42 p.m. EST.
“There is a sun,” Cantrell said with a laugh as he and Fain broke the surface of the water.
“Going in, we had goals that we wanted to accomplish,” Cantrell said. “At the end of 73 days, I think we’ve exceeded those goals. We’ve reached a lot of people. Now the challenge for us is to carry that forward.”
Fain said that teaching people about ocean conservation was one of the project’s most important goals.
“I really hope that people take away from this that the oceans are something that we need to protect,” Fain said. “We need to learn more about the oceans and how they work.”
Their mission broke the record held by Richard Presley (69 days, 19 minutes in Jules’ Undersea Lodge from May 6-July 14, 1992). Presley greeted Fain and Cantrell after they surfaced.
“It’s exciting to see the focus more on education and using technology to involve more students,” Presley said. “We didn’t have that technology in ’92.”
While living 25 feet underwater, Fain and Cantrell hosted nine episodes of an online lecture series titled “Classroom Under the Sea.” Presented by Roane State and the Marine Resources Development Foundation, “Classroom Under the Sea” featured guests such as astronaut Buzz Aldrin and marine life artist Wyland.
Viewers have watched 65,000 minutes of Classroom Under the Sea video content on the project’s YouTube channel. Video content has been viewed in 124 countries.
Cantrell and Fain also spoke by video chat with students across the country and around the world. Students at a small school in Nickelsville, Virginia, shared their thoughts on talking with two professors living underwater.
“Our school is a very small school; we don’t even have 300 people,” wrote senior Chelsey Stapleton. “So getting this chance to talk to Bruce and Jessica about their experience was so interesting and amazing.”
Marine Resources Development Foundation and Jules’ Under the Sea Lodge arranged for middle school students and high school students to have “Lunch with the Aquanauts.” Thirty students participated, including groups from Massachusetts, Maryland, and North Carolina.
Cantrell and Fain also received dozens of letters from students.
“When you start hearing back from these students, and they’re telling you ‘this is so cool’ and ‘what’s it like living underwater,’ you really feel like you are reaching your goals,” Fain said. “You feel like you are making a big difference in their lives. We brought a whole new world to some of these kids.”
In addition to hosting shows and speaking with students, Cantrell taught a college-credit course—BIOL 2600: Living and Working Under the Sea—for Roane State students.
Fain made her own mark by breaking the record for a female living underwater. The record was 14 days, set in 1970 by scientist Dr. Sylvia Earle and her team during their stay in the Tektite habitat. The Tektite program was the first nationally sponsored effort to place scientists in the sea to live.
“It’s a great honor,” Fain said. “She’s a pioneer. She’s a great marine biologist. By me living underwater for 73 days, I’m making a big step for females and showing girls, especially young girls, that it’s OK, that this may be a field where there’s a lot more guys, but girls can definitely succeed.”
Classroom Under the Sea episodes and lesson plans will remain available, at no cost, on the project website at www.roanestate.edu/classroomunderthesea. Teachers are invited to use the materials in their courses.