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He spent 73 days living underwater in the Florida Keys. There was coffee, but little room

A scientific researcher and retired U.S. Navy officer fulfilled his goal of breaking the world record for the longest time spent living underwater in a fixed habitat.

Joseph Dituri, 55, an associate professor at the University of South Florida, isn’t done yet. He plans to spend at least another 20 days living submerged at Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo.

But mission accomplished for the feat he set out to do when he entered the 100-square-foot hotel 30 feet below a Key Largo lagoon on March 1. He broke the record on Saturday with 73 days underwater.

“My goal is to inspire — not only for generations to come — but for scientists around the globe who study life undersea and how the human body functions when in extreme environments,” Dituri said in a statement.

The spokesperson for the adventure declined to make Dituri available for an interview.

“Unfortunately Dr. Dituri’s schedule is overflowing, thanks to the significant reaction of his record breaking and the interest it has created.” Ben Norton said in an email. “The problem is that he still has to do his research so we have to yield time for that.”

While he has been underwater, Dituri has been engaging with students interested in marine science, and conducting research on “the positive influences of hyperbaric oxygent therapy on human health and exploring the ocean’s role in the treatment of disease,” according to the organizers of the endeavor, dubbed “Project NEPTUNE.”

Hyperbaric medicine treats conditions like carbon monoxide poisoning and infections that deprive human tissues of oxygen. Ditui has a medical team that will document health results, including a possible increase in the production of stem cells.

“We can make you basically grow new blood vessels, so there’s a bunch of good benefits of hyperbaric medicine that we’re going to be testing,” Dituri said before embarking on his lengthy submerged stay.

KNOW MORE: Retired Navy officer enters Florida Keys undersea lodge. He plans to break records

Teaching the students

He’s “virtually interacted and taught” more than 2,450 students in more than 10 countries, including Abu Dhabi, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Ireland, South Korea, Vietnam and the United Kingdom, according to a statement from the organizers. Some students also dove to the lodge to visit with him in person.

Dr. Joseph Dituri speaks with students visiting him inside Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, where he broke the record for living the longest underwater in a fixed environment.
Dr. Joseph Dituri speaks with students visiting him inside Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, where he broke the record for living the longest underwater in a fixed environment.

At the same time, Dituri has been holding his regular biomedical engineering classes for the University of South Florida.

Dituri said he found his passion for science while serving as a diver in the Navy, from which he retired after a 28-year-career, ending with the rank of commander. He then enrolled at Tampa-based USF, earning a doctorate in bio-medical engineering, studying about traumatic brain injuries.

The previous record for living underwater in a fixed environment was set by Tennessee teachers Bruce Cantrell and Jessica Fain, also at Jules’ Undersea Lodge.

Jules’ Undersea Lodge, located 30 feet below the surface in a Key Largo lagoon, was originally an underwater marine research laboratory, and became a lodge in 1986, said Andy Newman, spokesman for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. It has two private bedrooms and a common room, according to the lodge’s website. It attracts tourists and scientists

When Day 100 is complete on June 9, Dituri is expected to surface, and a team of physicians will evaluate him to study the effects of prolonged underwater living on the human body, according to a fact sheet on the mission.

The project is being funded through a grant from a Key Largo-based nonprofit, the Marine Resources Development Foundation. The exact cost was not immediately available.

Life underwater

In a video he shot on day 49 of the mission, he explained what daily life was like inside his temporary, cramped home. He explained that he gets food delivered every few days, because there’s only enough room down there for a dorm room-type refrigerator.

Dr. Joseph Dituri gives the ‘hang loose’ sign while scuba diving outside Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo.
Dr. Joseph Dituri gives the ‘hang loose’ sign while scuba diving outside Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo.

All cooking must be done by microwave so it doesn’t upset the oxygen levels inside the facility — but there is, thankfully, a coffeemaker.

“I can tell you from experience, science does not happen without coffee,” Diturie said.

He’s got about 100 square feet of living space in one compartment, about 60 square feet in the other and 40 square feet in another. And with the ceiling topping just over six feet, the six-foot-one-inch tall, 220-pound Diturie sometimes has a tough time maneuvering.

“It is what it is. I enjoy being down here. I think it’s a great thing,” Dituri said. “But, we are doing exploration, so you’re not at the Marriott, or not in the Hilton, the whole time.”