Friends of Rookery Bay Dive Aquarius

Winners of a silent auctions recently had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of diving to the world’s only underwater research laboratory — FIU Aquarius.

Athan diving

Friends of Rookery Bay offered the unique opportunity in a silent auction during its Bash for the Bay fundraising gala. The non-profit organization is dedicated to helping people connect with the coastal ecosystems of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve in southwest Florida.

Auction winners started their experience at the Medina Aquarius Program shore base facility in Islamorada, Florida. They were introduced to saturation diving and the capabilities of Aquarius as a platform for science, research and development, and education. The group then headed offshore for a full day of diving, starting with a thirty-minute dive on coral reefs around the exterior of the undersea lab. On the second dive, participants ventured inside Aquarius to experience what it’s like to live and work beneath the sea.

“Aquarius is a one-of-a-kind facility. We must invest more resources to support Aquarius and fund research missions,” said Athan Barkoukis, director of the Friends of Rookery Bay, who joined winners on the dive. “As a researcher at heart, this is where I see the greatest opportunity to maximize the benefits of Aquarius. We spend so much money exploring space yet have this largely untapped gem in our own backyard.”

The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve spans across 110,000 acres of mangrove forest, uplands, and protected waters, encompassing 40 percent of the Collier County coast. FIU’s  Division of Coastlines and Oceans in the Institute for the Environment has partnered with the Reserve to provide students with opportunities to engage in joint field-based education programs as well as sharing facilities, research vessels, vehicles, and other resources.

An Aquarius Experience opportunity is the next best thing to becoming an actual aquanaut. To learn more about Aquarius Reef Base, visit