Funding cut imperils undersea lab

In this undated photo released by One World One Ocean, Sylvia Earle looks out of a porthole from Aquarius, the undersea research laboratory in the Florida Keys. 
Photo Mark Ostrick

By Jennifer Kay - St Augustine

Ocean explorer Sylvia Earle sported one Rolex dive watch on each wrist as she slipped beneath the balmy waters of the Florida Keys for a weeklong stay at an undersea research lab where marine biologists have kept constant watch on a coral reef.

In 1970, Rolex gave Earle a small gold watch when she led the first team of women “aquanauts” to a lab off the U.S. Virgin Islands. Back then, prolonged underwater exploration was still something of a novelty.

She got a larger black dive watch not long before arriving in Key Largo last week for what could be the last mission for her and other scientists to the Aquarius Reef Base.

It seems that time has almost run out for the lab in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The mission ending Saturday could be the last at the last publically funded lab of its kind, because the Obama administration has cut Aquarius’ $3 million annual funding.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration owns the lab that has rested for two decades some 60 feet below the water’s surface.

The federal budget cuts threaten to close the lab unless it can secure private funding.

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Ocean Explorer Sylvia Earle Rolex dive watch Florida Keys undersea research lab U.S. Virgin Islands