Fabien Cousteau’s PROTEUS™, the ISS of the Sea, Breaks Ground in Curaçao

WILLEMSTAD, Curaçao, Sept. 28, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Renowned aquanaut, ocean explorer and environmentalist Fabien Cousteau conducts the next crucial step in his project, PROTEUS™: the world’s most advanced underwater scientific research station and habitat to address humanity’s most critical concerns: medicinal discoveries, food sustainability, and the impacts of climate change. Cousteau heads to Curaçao, the location of the first habitat, to conduct a site mapping with a team of 4 experts from Map the Gaps and R2Sonic.

PROTEUS™ is conceived as the underwater version of the International Space Station; it will be a platform for global collaboration amongst the world’s leading researchers, academics, government agencies, and corporations to advance science to benefit the future of the planet.

The ocean covers more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface, driving weather, regulating temperature, and ultimately supporting all living organisms — and the ocean remains and has long been a vital source of commerce, sustenance, and transport. Despite this reliance, approximately eighty percent of it remains unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored.

"As our life support system, the ocean is indispensable to solving the planet’s biggest problems. Challenges created by climate change, rising sea levels, extreme storms and viruses represent a multi-trillion-dollar risk to the global economy," stated Fabien Cousteau. Surprisingly, despite the ocean representing over 99% of our world’s living space, only 5% has been explored to date. "PROTEUS™, contemplated as the first in a network of underwater habitats, is essential to driving meaningful solutions that protect the future of our planet. The knowledge that will be uncovered underwater will forever change the way generations of humans live up above." 

There is little knowledge of the vast majority of the ocean seafloor, and hi-resolution mapping is a critical tool for protecting and tracking marine life. It is also useful in regulating underwater exploration, ensuring that ships can safely maneuver around structures, both natural and human made, and for understanding what and where it is safe to explore. Creating a more comprehensive map of the world’s ocean will facilitate a heightened understanding of fundamental processes such as ocean circulation, weather systems, sea level rise, and climate change, leading to more ways to better conserve and sustainably use the oceans. With the UN declaring 2021 – 2030 to be the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, the need to learn more about the ocean is more critical than ever.

Cousteau and Proteus Ocean Group are working with Map the Gaps and R2Sonic to map the entire marine-protected area, covering a total surface area of 1,482 acres of reef and 1,077 acres of inner bays, in Curaçao over the course of a week. Map the Gaps is a non-profit organization formed of maritime mapping professionals, students and industry partners committed to growing awareness and increasing diversity in ocean mapping. R2Sonic provides technologically advanced multibeam echosounders that deliver high quality of data. In this project R2Sonic is dedicated to help collect the hydrographic data and share it so that all of us can learn more about our underwater terrain. Together, these organizations will provide vital data and a deeper knowledge base to benefit Curaçao, by enabling sustainable conservation measures. It will also provide critical information for the site of the first PROTEUS™, which is planned to be located off of the Island of Curaçao, at a depth of 60 feet (3 atmospheres), in a marine-protected area.

"Map the Gaps is delighted to have the opportunity to assemble a team consisting of mapping specialists from the region to map the marine protected area in Curaçao. Knowing that our work contributes to the site reconnaissance exploration for a human underwater habitat and that this important initiative will have a lasting impact on our ocean is immensely exciting," commented Tim Kearns, the founder of Map the Gaps.

R2Sonic commented "We are excited to participate in mapping the underwater area off of the Curacao coast where PROTEUS™ will build its underwater habitat. Hydrographic Survey is at the origin of so many activities that drive economic prosperity and help us understand our ecosystem. Assisting with our top-of-the-line multibeam echosounder, the Sonic 2026 and helping conduct the hydrographic survey is our way to contribute to the development of this project which can be groundbreaking in our understanding of the underwater habitat."

"As an island recognized worldwide for its pristine oceans and diverse marine life, we are honored to have Curaçao as home to PROTEUS™. We fully support the team involved in this project and are committed to the vision and partnership, serving as stewards for the environment. This is an impressive and important project for science, the world and the future of our fragile eco-system, full of immense riches yet to be discovered. Curaçao is passionate about the health of our oceans and will continue to be advocates of this type of research and projects of this magnitude," commented Hugo Clarinda, Deputy Director of the Curaçao Tourist Board.

PROTEUS™ is envisioned to be more than four times the size of any previously known underwater habitat, and will feature state-of-the-art labs, sleeping quarters, and a moon pool. PROTEUS™ will include the first underwater greenhouse, allowing inhabitants to grow fresh plant life for food, marking a unique approach to address some challenges that come with underwater living, such as not being allowed to cook with open flames. The habitat will be sustainably powered by hybrid sources including wind and solar. It will include a full-scale video production facility to provide continuous live streaming for educational programming, and delivery of augmented and virtual reality to collaborators world-wide. This will allow us to tell the story of PROTEUS™ and engage communities around the world with our ocean. 

During Fabien’s visit in Curaçao, he will also be meeting with several residents as well as with members of the local Government, including the Office of the Ministry of Education during this trip for initial conversations to explore opportunities for ocean awareness and educational programming and outreach. Mr. Sithree van Heydoorn, the Minister of Education commented: "The site mapping is an exciting next step in the building of PROTEUS™ — which will allow for unprecedented access to a deeper understanding of the ocean. Through its development, we’ll be able to learn more about the marine biodiversity of Curacao on a local level and further educate the community on the human-ocean connection."

About Proteus Ocean Group
PROTEUS™ is operationalized and run by Proteus Ocean Group, Ltd. (POG), a private sector social enterprise, a sustainable for-profit business that will scale and have global impact. POG manages the coordination of and partnerships with strategic collaborators such as Northeastern, Rutgers, Government entities (including Curaçao), and private sector partners. The Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center (a 501(c)(3)) (FCOLC) is a major stakeholder in POG and leads the educational programming for PROTEUS™. https://www.proteusoceangroup.com/ 

About Map the Gaps
Map the Gaps is a volunteer based, non-profit organization including marine mapping professionals, students, industry partners, and alumni from the Nippon Foundation/ GEBCO Training Program in ocean bathymetry from the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal Ocean Mapping. The organization is committed to growing awareness, increasing diversity, and promoting equity in ocean mapping. https://www.mapthegaps.org/ 

About R2Sonic
R2Sonic designs and manufactures shallow water multibeam echosounders. R2Sonic brings value to its customers by providing technical features that help them meet their goals, whether it is high resolution, high accuracy or reliability. The portfolio is simple while technologically advanced: 4 multibeam echosounders that differentiate themselves by their depth range and beamwidth. It is also modular: you can update any multibeam sonar with the technical features of your choice.

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SOURCE Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center