The National Association of Black Scuba Divers (NABS) and NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries joined forces to present “Aquarius 2010: If Reefs Could Talk,” a program designed to educate students on their connection to the ocean. On Oct. 12, Bancroft Elementary School students participated in this program that allowed them to travel deep into the world’s only undersea research laboratory with the help of high-tech video equipment.

“People protect what they understand and love, so our goal during this mission is to help the public understand that a healthy ocean matters to all of us,” said Kate Thompson, education coordinator for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “The more people we introduce to the ocean, the more we will empower citizens with the knowledge to support responsible stewardship of our ocean resources.”

From Oct. 12-21 a team of 26 divers lived completely underwater at the Aquarius Reef Base, located off the coast of Key Largo, Fla., 60-feet below the surface in the coral reef ecosystem. NOAA agreed to conduct a live video conference twice a day to schools throughout the country. Teaming up with NABS insured that schools that are traditionally underserved were not overlooked.

“The National Association of Black Scuba Divers considers it both a privilege and a golden opportunity to partner with NOAA on ‘Aquarius 2010’,” said Dr. Jose Jones, NABS science and education committee chairman. “This project will reach young African Americans and others with information and knowledge that will help with future stewardship of our oceans. Hopefully, some of the listeners and viewers will come away with the desire to pursue careers in the ocean sciences.”

Ernie Franklin, a dive master with NABS, hosted the Aquarius webcast at Bancroft Elementary School. After a 10-minute tour of the Aqua Coral Base Station, the students posed questions to Franklin, and several other divers.

Select NABS chapters, including the Morgan State University chapter, hosted several public interactive viewings of the “Aquarius 2010: If Reefs Could Talk” event in local libraries, Boys and Girls Clubs, and science centers throughout the country in an effort to bring awareness to the mission of the project.

“Scientists and educators will live and work in Aquarius studying the health of Conch Reef and how changes in the abundance and diversity of animals and plants affect it,” said Steve Gittings, national science coordinator for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and one of the lead scientists for the mission. “The findings will help us all better manage human activities so we can protect these struggling marine ecosystems for future generations.”

The Kensington Parkwood Elementary School in Montgomery County was also fortunate enough to host a video conferencing session with NOAA, who visited them on Oct. 19. Two fourth-grade classes piled into the newly renovated media center to watch the “aquanauts” at work 60 feet below the surface.

Similar to the students of Bancroft Elementary, the children of KPES were overjoyed with the opportunity to see real life deep sea divers. According to principal Barbara Leiss, “It’s like taking a field trip without actually going anywhere.”