The near-tragic story of one-of-a-kind technology 60 feet beneath the ocean surface

The first time I saw "The Little Mermaid," the song "Under the Sea" left me wanting to take an underwater vacation.

C'mon. You know you want to hear it. GIF via "The Little Mermaid."


This line, y'all: "Just look at the world around you. Right here on the ocean floor. Such wonderful things surround you. What more is you looking for?"

Doesn't it make you want to just grow some gills?

We may not be able to live in the ocean, but scientists have developed a way to spend long stretches of time down there.

It's called the Aquarius Reef Base, and it was built a few decades ago, believe it or not. Today, it sits 60 feet underwater among the coral reefs of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Nature's paint job. Images via One World One Ocean/YouTube.

The Aquarius Reef Base is the only undersea laboratory and living space in the world.


Base director Thomas Potts describes Aquarius as "a one-of-a-kind saturation diving unit that is dedicated to science, education, and outreach" and "a complete immersive experience that you can find nowhere else on the planet."

Plus, it saves scientific teams time and money.

Saturation diving allows researchers to maximize their bottom time — or, as Sebastian from "The Little Mermaid" might put it, their time "under da sea." The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says a surface-based scuba mission "would take at least 60-70 days to match the same bottom time as a 10-day saturation mission."

When you consider the questions scientists are trying to answer down there, you realize the reef base isn't just a national treasure, it's a global one.

According to Florida International University:

"At Aquarius, scientists are at the cutting edge of research on coral reefs, ocean acidification, climate change, fisheries and the overall health of the oceans. ... Universities, government agencies and private industry have conducted more than 120 missions to discover, preserve, train and innovate. More than 600 scientific research papers have been published based on Aquarius science."

Stuff's gettin' done on Aquarius. And as if it wasn't already one of the best dollar-for-dollar science structures on the planet, Aquarius is even used to train astronauts before they leave the planet.

Despite its unique and vital role in science, Aquarius has become a victim of politics.

In 2012, funding for the base was slated for elimination when NOAA's national undersea research program was dropped due to budget cuts. The Aquarius budget was less than $4 million, "a drop in the bucket when you compare it to bigger picture items," said Potts. But that was the problem, wrote Ben Hellwarth:

"Ironically, Aquarius's low cost has likely contributed to its low profile. The program can be cut precisely because ordinary citizens haven't heard of it because it isn't expensive enough to be worth cutting. The lab is a perfect example of practical spending."

Suffice it to say, scientists and science lovers across the nation were like, "HOLD UP."

GIF via "The Little Mermaid."

Thankfully, Aquarius was saved by Florida International University, but it was too close for comfort.

We're talking about the future of the planet here, folks, so (1) it shouldn't matter how much it costs to study and protect it, and (2) it's a job that'll have to be done for the entirety of human existence.

So let's not just look at studying the ocean as our duty — which it is, so we have to fund it — but also, it's the ocean. It's huge and awesome and 50% to 80% of all life on Earth lives in it. Why not also view it as one way we celebrate life?

GIF via "The Little Mermaid."

Watch this introduction to the Aquarius Reef Base by One World One Ocean:

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Universal Pictures: Everest

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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