What’s happening with Proteus – Cousteau’s underwater research station?

In July 2020, renowned aquanaut Fabien Cousteau – grandson of the late Jacques Cousteau – announced “Proteus,” an advanced underwater scientific research station and habitat, conceived as the “underwater version of the International Space Station”.

Proteus,” reported Cosmos magazine edition 84, “will – if all goes well – be a modular structure housing a crew of up to 12 people at a depth of 20 metres for extended periods.”

Now for our occasional series “What Happened Next” we contacted the organisation behind the project.

In 2021, Cousteau undertook an expedition in the waters near Santa Barbara in Curaçao in the Caribbean, to identify the site to house the first Proteus and said the station was expected to be completed by late 2023 or early 2024.

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Initial concept renderings of Proteus (Image Proteus)

Curaçao is expected to be the first of many Proteus stations. In the hope of creating a network of them, “Australia, Europe, North America and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region for potential future locations,” according to Suzanne Rutledge, public relations strategist for the project.

Map the Gaps and R2Sonic worked with Cousteau and Proteus Ocean Group to map the entire marine protected area in which the station is expected to be set.

In 2021 the project announced a partnership with the shoe company Vionic, which says: “Vionic is committed to its customers, the planet we walk on, and to incorporating ethically sourced and sustainable materials into its shoe styles, making it the ideal partner for Proteus Ocean Group.”

In May 2023, Proteus Ocean Group signed a cooperative research and development agreement with The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to “advance marine science, research and education.” NOAA is to provide the project with scientific experts, vessels, and other technology in addition to shoreside facilities.

Cosmos magazine original article about Proteus

Cousteau says: “With NOAA’s collaboration, the discoveries we can make — in relation to climate refugia, super corals, life-saving drugs, micro environmental data tied to climate events and many others — will be truly groundbreaking. We look forward to sharing those stories with the world.”

Proteus was also endorsed by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s Executive Secretary as part of the United Nations “Ocean Decade.”

Jacques Cousteau received a global award for Peace, and was a fierce opponent of nuclear weapons, but it’s not known how he might perceive the latest partnership between Proteus and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) signed in July. The NUWC is the U.S. Navy’s lead research and development centre for undersea technology.

This agreement is set to enable “collaborative discussions to drive ideas and concepts regarding habitat design and mission operations.”

The latest press release was in February this year, announcing an official partnership between Proteus Ocean Group and the Caribbean Research and Management of Biodiversity Foundation (CARMABI).

Dr. Manfred van Veghel, director of CARMABI, says that the combined knowledge and research history of their institute with the capabilities of Proteus “will contribute to discoveries that are only possible when living and working at depth.”

The search for funding isn’t yet complete. Cousteau is still working on raising the estimated $135 million (US) required to construct and operate Proteus for its first three years.

Rutledge says the Proteus team is hoping that the first platform will be in place around 2027, with the installation expected to take place 36 months after sourcing the full amount of required funding.

Editors note: This item was updated after the Proteus team advised us their internal communications errors.

The Ultramarine project – focussing on research and innovation in our marine environments – is supported by Minderoo Foundation.

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