The world’s last publicly funded undersea research base, Aquarius, is about to lost its $3 million in annual operation funds. The facility has been used for 20 years to study coral reef changes off the coast of Florida. What will its closing mean for our understanding of the health of our oceans?

While the U.S. and many other nations have robots which can dive to the depths necessary to do some underwater experiments, having an undersea diving base that humans can access is still very important. BoingBoing’s own Brian Lam, a diver himself, explained why such a base is absolutely necessary:

In Aquarius, scientists can conduct undersea experiments that are too intricate or dependent on direct observation for robots. And scientists can also stay in deep water 9-10x the time a scuba diver can because Aquanauts never have to surface and risk decompression sickness at the end of a day. Lastly, because the data from the reef has been coming in for the last 20 so years, it serves as a constant yardstick for the health of the oceans in general. That data flow should not be interrupted.

By eliminating human access to underwater observation, we are setting ourselves up to lose track of a width swath of Earth’s real estate and one that is vital to our survival.

Due to budgetary issues, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration is having to move around its expenditures to cover the rising cost of weather satellites – and Aquarius is one of the projects losing funding because of it. We are still spending money on underwater robots, of course, but they don’t let us gather the same kind or amount of information that long-term underwater stays do. “Aquanauts,” as residents of the base are called, can accomplish in a week what it might take robots to do in months. Losing Aquarius is very bad news.

For a better explanation of the importance of understanding oceanic health, here’s National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle reporting underwater from Aquarius on why we should care about the ocean. Take a look:

[via BoingBoing]

Image Credit: NOAA