Education and Research at FIU’s Center for Coastal Oceans Research

Analisa Duran Education & Outreach Program Coordinator, Center for Coastal Oceans Research Florida International University

The Center for Coastal Oceans Research at Florida International University (FIU) provides a unique educational opportunity for learners of all ages and serves as a marine-related research hub for conservation, preservation, and action-oriented solutions for some of our ocean’s most pressing challenges.

Aquarius Underwater Laboratory in the Florida Keys National
Marine Sanctuary. Photo credit: DJ Roller

As the rate of faculty and graduate student publications based on work in the Florida Keys increased tremendously, a program to improve the academic environment for residents was created. The initiative continued to grow and was known as the Marine Education and Research Center (MERC), housed within the Institute of Water and Environment (InWE) in the College of Arts, Sciences and Education. Today, MERC has rebranded and is known as the Center for Coastal Oceans Research (CCOR).

The educational programs in the Florida Keys include Family Science Night, Ocean Life Series seminars, acting as judges for school and county science fairs, visiting schools in Monroe county to educate about CCOR initiatives, and attending and creating community science-driven events. The desired outcomes of these programs are to inspire environmental stewardship, educate about the marine world by connecting science to the community, and peak the curiosity of students to be interested in science. CCOR also facilitates global Skype in the Classroom programs that have reached over 1 million students since 2013.

Education and Outreach
JR Aquanaut trying on a real dive helmet.
Photo credit: CASE News

The research projects within the center range from seagrass and blue carbon, to the Global Finprint project and shark populations & finning. There are a total of 17 faculty members whose PhD, graduate, and undergraduate students are working toward research and discoveries within the marine environment. The center encompasses Aquarius Undersea Laboratory in Islamorada, Florida as well as successful partnerships with Rookery Bay Research Reserve in Naples, Florida and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Aquarius Undersea Laboratory is an integral part of the center and has been a part of FIU since 2013. Aquarius is the world’s only underwater research laboratory and is deployed in 60 feet of water in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary about 5 nautical miles off shore from Tavernier Florida. Here, scientists can be immersed in their research for weeks at a time through a process called saturation diving. Saturation diving gives aquanauts the opportunity to spend nine hours a day diving down to 95 feet to conduct their research. When their mission is accomplished aboard Aquarius, aquanauts need to only decompress once before returning to the surface. It could take as long as six months of surface-based diving to conduct as much research done during a 10-day Aquarius mission!

Aquarius provides scientists with the opportunity to conduct crucial research covering a variety of areas including water quality, coral reef biology, ecology, and physiology, long-term ocean monitoring, restoration science, ocean acidification, and global climate change. Aquarius also serves as a space analog for astronauts who are preparing to go into space. Over 700 publications have resulted Aquarius missions.

If you are interested in learning more about CCOR or participating in one of their events, please contact the center’s Education & Outreach Coordinator at: or visit

FIU Research Team collecting samples. Photo credit: CASE News

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