BY ZACHARY FAGENSON
(Reuters) - Fabien Cousteau, grandson of famed French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, is due to emerge from the turquoise waters off the Florida Keys on Wednesday morning, marking the end of a record-breaking, 31-day stay inside an underwater habitat with a team of scientists and documentary filmmakers.
The younger Cousteau, 46, along with two "aquanauts," took the 60-foot (18-meter) dive to Aquarius, a 43-foot-long (18-meter-long) laboratory resting off of Key Largo, on June 1 following years of preparation and delay.
While Cousteau's goal was to attract more support for ocean conservation, teams of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University rotated through the laboratory studying the impact of changing seas on underwater life.
The ability to live underwater allowed researchers to leave the habitat several times a day, including the middle of the night, to collect samples from nearby coral reefs and observe marine life in otherwise impossible circumstances.
Aquarius is air conditioned and equipped with wireless Internet access, a shower, a bathroom and six bunks, as well as portholes that give the occupants a 24-hour view of the surrounding marine life.
Despite a successful trip the month-long stay called Mission 31 was not without its challenges.
"One night the air conditioning stopped working and it got to 95 degrees (35 C) and 95 percent humidity," said Andrew Shantz, a Ph.D. candidate in marine eco-science at Florida International University, who spent 17 days in the lab in the beginning of June.
"We saw a Goliath grouper attack a big barracuda, which is something I never imagined happening," Shantz said.
The previous record for living under water was held by Cousteau's grandfather, who in 1963 spent 30 days in a similar facility in depths of about 30 feet (9 meters) in the Red Sea.