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Undersea Habitats

MarineLab Undersea LaboratoryLa ChalupaJules' Undersea Lodge

MRDF currently owns two undersea habitats, the MarineLab Undersea Laboratory and Jules' Undersea Lodge. Jules' is leased to Key Largo Undersea Park, which operates it as an underwater hotel and place where recreational divers can receive specialized instruction in underwater living. The MarineLab Undersea Laboratory is now an interactive museum open to the public, while Jules' remains submerged in the lagoon at Key Largo Undersea Park.

The Foundation has a long history working with underwater habitats. Founder Ian Koblick was an alternate Aquanaut on Tektite I and Program Manager on Tektite II, which were government sponsored underwater habitat projects held in St John's, US Virgin Islands. NASA's space program has a long history using underwater habitats to study how people cope in a hostile environment. Watch the Tektite documentary video to the right!





PRINUL prinul Puerto Rico Inter National Undersea Laboratory (PRINUL)

From 1971 to 1976, MRDF developed, built and managed the government-sponsored Puerto Rico International Undersea Laboratory (PRINUL) program. This extensive research program was designed to demonstrate  the value of using undersea habitats to inventory marine resources.  Using the island of Puerto Rico as a mini-continent, the project was meant to be a model for a similar program for North America. Located on a 30-acre site, the Foundation operated the most advanced undersea laboratory in the world, the La Chalupa habitat. Designed and managed by Ian Koblick, this habitat program achieved major accomplishments in the development of ocean research and saturation diving technology. Several publications resulted from the extensive research conducted during this project.

Broward students Hab exterior MarineLab Undersea Laboratory

In 1984, MRDF launched the world's first underwater classroom, the MarineLab Undersea Laboratory, at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, Florida. Under the name "MarineLab," marine education programs were established, giving students and teachers an opportunity to live, work, and study the ocean from an undersea habitat. The habitat was moved from its location at Pennekamp to the newly acquired facility in Key Largo, only a few hundred yards away.

For the next 30+ years, the Undersea Laboratory hosted hundreds of Aquanauts in a variety of missions, from research to educational.


CCELSSIn 1993 and 1994, NASA’s OCEAN Project, under the direction of Dennis Chamberland, conducted plant growth experiments in one of MRDF’s undersea habitats to learn more about the challenges of maintaining a controlled ecological life support system, in an alien environment. The scope of the OCEAN Project was expanded in 1995 to capitalize on the educational value of using an undersea habitat to demonstrate the similarities between living in outer space and within the sea. 

LaChalupa30NASA had previously partnered with MRDF in 1992, on the "La Chalupa-30" mission, which simulated the isolation conditions of a long term space mission by placing aquanauts in an undersea habitat for 30 days. Overlapping this cooperative program was a privately funded endeavor, sponsored by MRDF, called Project Atlantis.  The program raised public awareness about the possibilities of living and working in the sea and resulted in the establishment of a world record, which is still unbroken, for living in an undersea habitat (69 days).

SovietMRDF developed an undersea diving program with the Oceanographic Ministry of the former Soviet Union in 1992. Two Soviet scientists/aquanauts from the P.P. Shirsove Institute of Oceanology of the Soviet Academy of Sciences participated in a NOAA-funded, two week saturation dive study of vital lung capacity in MRDF’s MarineLab Undersea Laboratory. The project marked the first time that Russian scientists had lived in a US undersea habitat.

These Soviet scientists were part of a larger series of NOAA funded programs studying diver physiology under a variety of hyperbaric environments.  From 1988 to 1990, researchers used Doppler Ultrasound technology to detect small nitrogen bubbles in the blood of divers who had spent 12, 24, and 48 hours at depths of 12 to 24 feet in the MarineLab Undersea Laboratory. Several papers and presentations resulted from this study, which provided new information on the no-decompression limit for divers.

The MarineLab Undersea Laboratory was the longest-continually running underwater habitat in the world prior to its removal from the lagoon in March 2018.


JulesJules' Undersea Lodge

In 1986, MRDF oversaw the refurbishment and installation of Jules’ Undersea Lodge, the former La Chalupa habitat, in the lagoon at Key Largo Undersea Park. Many celebrities and notables have stayed overnight in what is still the world’s only underwater hotel. In 1995, the actual structure was donated to MRDF, which leased it back to Key Largo Undersea Park to operate.