Living at Aquarius Reef Base is “like camping underwater,” according to Earle. The aquanauts eat, sleep, and shower at the base. The rest of the time, they get to explore what Earle describes as the best swimming pool in the world. The researchers can even communicate with landlubbers during their expeditions—while underwater, they wear special helmets outfitted with clear face plates and face masks (for speaking) that link back via a cable to the base, and then via another cable up to a surface buoy that wirelessly transmits the signal to the world.
When we spoke to Earle, the aquanauts hadn’t been at the base for long. But one of them had already seen something incredible: At 2 a.m., a giant goliath grouper—about the size of two to three people—cruising around the base, snapping up smaller fish attracted to the light. The grouper, which has been hanging around the base “looks like a big pillow with eyes,” says Earle. “She comes out like a lioness on the prowl.”