Proteus is a facility set to become the world’s biggest underwater base for scientific research.

The project was recently announced by Fabien Cousteau, grandson of world-renown ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau. 

He envisions Proteus as the ocean equivalent to the International Space Station. A place where researchers could come together to solve problems ranging from climate change to world hunger.

“Proteus…is essential to driving meaningful solutions to protect the future of our planet,” Cousteau says. “The knowledge that will be uncovered underwater will forever change the way generations of humans live up above.”

Conducting research underwater is extremely difficult due to atmospheric pressure.

When a scuba diver descends underwater, the pressure causes the nitrogen in their lungs to dissolve into their body. The deeper they dive, the more nitrogen dissolves.

If a diver returns to the surface too quickly, the nitrogen turns to bubbles in the blood and causes decompression sickness — also called the bends. 

To avoid this painful and potentially fatal problem, deep-sea divers must ascend to the surface very slowly. This allows time for the nitrogen to be expelled through the lungs. 

For example, a diver who spends one hour at a depth of 250 feet must spend 5 hours ascending to the surface. 

An underwater base would remove this limitation — researchers could live in it for weeks and then just do one very slow ascent afterwards.

Proteus would sit below the surface at a depth of 60 feet and contain living quarters for a crew of 12. 

The project is set to be built off the coast of Curaçao in the Caribbean sea. Proteus has a price tag of $135 million and will take an estimated 3 years to construct.