The future of our oceans, our food chain, and the entire planet is at stake. To observe the impacts of climate change, overfishing, pollution, and other pressing problems up close, famed ocean explorer Fabien Cousteau (grandson of Jacques-Yves Cousteau) is planning an underwater facility he calls “the ocean’s equivalent to the International Space Station.”

Early renderings for ocean explorer Fabien Cousteau's PROTEUS underwater research center.

Designed by architect Yves Behar and his firm fuseproject, early renderings of “PROTEUS” looks a lot like still shots from a sci-fi film about building human habitations on a faraway planet. Set to be built 60 feet below the surface of the ocean off the Caribbean island of Curaçao, a location rich in biodiverse marine life, it will be the most advanced underwater research station ever built once it’s complete.

The station will act as a state-of-the-art lab for the world’s leading researchers, academics, government agencies, and companies working to advance science for the future health of the planet. On-site facilities will allow organic samples to be studied as soon as they’re captured, eliminating the problem of specimens degrading or dying by the time they reach the surface. At 4,000 square feet, PROTEUS will be three to four times the size of existing submarine habitats, capable of housing four people at once.

The structure will consist of a series of modular sleeping, bathroom, medical, life support, storage and laboratory pods attached in a spiraling shape to a main body, all of which is secured to the ocean floor by legs that can adapt to the variable terrain. The largest pod will contain a “moon pool” that allows submersible watercraft to dock. Dual levels connected by a spiraling ramp encourage the inhabitants to maintain healthy physical activity while underwater.

Cousteau hopes the facility will allow for the discovery of new species, learning more about how climate change affects the ocean, and developing advanced technologies for renewable energy, aquaculture, and robotic exploration.

“As our life support system, the ocean is indispensable to solving the planet’s biggest problems. Challenges created by climate change, rising sea levels, extreme storms, and viruses represent a multi-trillion-dollar risk to the global economy. PROTEUS, contemplated as the first in a network of underwater habitats, is essential to driving meaningful solutions to protect the future of our planet. The knowledge that will be uncovered underwater will forever change the way generations of humans live up above,” he explains.

Aerial views of the PROTEUS underwater research center.

Aerial views of the PROTEUS underwater research center.

When it comes to scientific research, time is often of the essence. Having complex equipment and technology at their fingertips while still on location will helps scientists sample and access more and varied types of marine life. PROTEUS will also serve as a diving base for oceanic exploration.

Cousteau adds that “scuba diving has serious limitations as a research tool for ocean scientists primarily because the amount of time safely spent in deeper waters is limited to less than two to three hours per day. However, saturation diving (diving at great depths for long periods of time) offers ocean scientists unlimited access to greater depths and can sustain continuous day and night research when supported by an underwater station. Anything that gives a researcher more time at greater depths is a huge benefit to their research because everything is both more difficult to execute in deep water and typically takes more time to accomplish vs. on land or in shallow waters.”

Early renderings for ocean explorer Fabien Cousteau's PROTEUS underwater research center.

The project is still in early planning phases, so it’s unclear exactly when construction might begin, but it will be interesting to see how PROTEUS takes shape in the coming years.