Joe Dituri, a retired Navy officer, is trying to break the land record for living underwater. NPR’s Joanna Summers checked in with him on her second day.
JUANA ESTAS, HOST;
Twenty-two feet deep in a tropical cove in the Florida Keys, we found Joseph Dituri today. He arrived yesterday, and if all goes well, he will be there for some 98 days to complete Project Neptune 100. It is a medical research and marine conservation mission, which, by the way, is breaking ground for human habitation underwater. We got to him on the foot of the underwater press company near Key Largo. Joseph Dituri, all things considered, grateful, and here to be grateful.
JOSEPH DITURI: Oh, thank you for having me. It is a great honor and privilege.
SUMMER: So you’ve said that the world census is a small, adolescent, small part of your mission. So we begin to ask you, what is the major part of your role?
DITURI: Oh, boy, it’s triple. And I want to increase the science, technology, engineering and math of our students, right? So while we’re here we’re doing this research, with schools in the area, local marine labs, and non-profit corporations. And we’ll bring the kids here and show them the science we’re doing so they can act on the science.
You also do biomedical research. That is the specific research that my Ph.D. In. And you learn human research, and I happen to be a guinea pig – so many tests before, blood tests, right? And then, while we’re here, we do the same experiment about five times. Then when I come, we will see what has been done and what has changed. And the third and last thing and perhaps the most important thing we do is the projection file. Noted marine scientists, such as – Count Sylvia will come down here and have a conversation. I stay here all night with Count Sylvia, and hang and cheat. What is it?
SUMMER: I would like to know. There is a kind of humming sound behind you. What is? Is that part of this company underwater pressurized? Do we hear this work behind you?
Diturri: Yeah. This is where positive pressure resides, and air must be pumped into it because we are at the bone-crushing depth of 22 feet of seawater. So basically it has to boil continuously. And the side effect is unfortunate, but it’s a necessity because I really love breathing.
SUMMER: Yeah. It is certain, I think, that you are here to live. All right. I know we just met, and I don’t want to get too personal, but please…
SUMMER: …How does one get to the bathroom there?
DITURI: Oh, that’s not where I thought you were going. But that’s a big question. We are so comfortable here. Since it is only twelve feet, we are able to squeeze it. It has to be soaked and pumped to the surface and connected to regular sewers. So we have to go somewhere.
SUMMER: You know we’ve talked about things you hope for, but is there anything here that you fear could go wrong?
Diturri: Yeah. So our biggest fear right now is an isolated, confined, extreme environment cause I’m about a little over 1 1/2 times as stressed as you are now. And no one remained here longer than the 73 days of the present world. I mean, you know, we do weekly psychological interviews with my psychologist. When we get to the end, we’ll probably need to move that from once a week meetings to about once every other day meeting. So the one thing I’m worried about is that even though I have guests down here, I’m basically in a jail cell. I mean, I can go outside and swim, but still get in. And there is no sunlight, so I take vitamin D supplements. So it’s kind of hard – being away from family, friends. You know I have three daughters, but I don’t see them. But it’s kind of—all in the name of science, if you will.
SUMMER: What is it about ocean exploration that appeals to you? I know on your website that you are also known as Dr. Deep Sea
DITURI: (Laughter) Yeah. So in 2012, I left the Navy and was hired by James Cameron to do some work with him on exploration to the bottom of the ocean. So I’m looking at the research that you’re learning, and the DNA sample people pulled that they found at 35,000 feet. No one has ever done that before. They drew that example because when they did, they found a partial cure for Alzheimer’s. And at that point in my life, I said, we need everything on this planet. He just needs to live. What do I do, what do you do? Ten years later, as I am, I got to live in the ocean. We came to find something to do.
SUMMERS: University of South Florida associate professor and class commander Joseph Dituri has retired. We arrived at the 2nd day of what is expected to be the current mission of 100 people living under the sea. Thank you and best of luck to you.
DITURI: Thank you.
(Soundbite of intrepid flyers “UNDER THE SEA”)
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