Life at the Bottom of the Sea
Life at the Bottom of the Sea
By Ann Nikolai
Aquanaut, author, scientist, and explorer Ian Koblick is widely considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on undersea habitation. Koblick (BS, Life Science and General Science, ’64) has also educated more than 200,000 schoolchildren about ocean conservation as founder and president of the Marine Resources Development Foundation (MRDF) in Key Largo, Florida, and has co-developed the world’s only underwater hotel.
Perhaps best known for discovering lost shipwrecks, Koblick and his team of ocean scientists and marine archeologists have uncovered lost treasures dating back thousands of years. In January 2012, the Aurora Trust, a nonprofit cofounded by Koblick, discovered a lost World War II British submarine in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Malta.
In 2009, Koblick’s divers found hundreds of virtually undisturbed amphorae (ceramic containers) from four ships sunk off the coast of Ventotene, Italy, in the first century BCE. The discovery provided historical links to Caesar Augustus, who had banished his daughter to the small island. “The relevance today of possessions lost thousands of years ago is astounding,” says Koblick. “We can’t build strong, viable cultures without knowledge of what got us here in the first place.”
The ocean itself was largely a mystery until underwater technology enabled people to go deep. Koblick’s La Chalupa research laboratory was among the first underwater habitats. Built in the early 1970s off the Puerto Rican coast, it was considered the largest and most technologically advanced underwater habitat of its time. It also served as Koblick’s home.
“We would dart outside to spear fish in our masks and fins at 106 feet below the surface,” says Koblick, recounting dinnertime exploits along the continental shelf. In the 1980s, the lab was relocated to Key Largo and transformed into Jules’ Undersea Lodge, an underwater hotel and the first underwater research lab accessible to the average person. It is the keystone of the MRDF program and an integral part of Koblick’s conservation work.
“Marine life is actually enhanced by the presence of an underwater structure,” says Koblick, author of Living and Working in the Sea (1995). “[The lodge] serves as an artificial reef, providing shelter and substrate for marine animals.”
Jules’ Undersea Lodge is not Koblick’s first venture into hospitality services. As an undergrad, he opened the Brazen Onegar at First and Main streets, later renamed Canal Street.
His future wife was a customer—and the Koblicks celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this year. Tonya (Smithousen) Koblick was featured in a fall 2010 Chico Statements story about a group of students who studied in Europe 52 years ago.
Koblick received a scholarship to the Hopkins Marine Station at Stanford University, where a professor told him that diving was for daredevils, not scientists. Undeterred, Koblick has since been driven to legitimize undersea adventure. “It was the turning point for me,” he says. “I really believed to understand the ocean you had to live in it. I still do.”
CONCANNON (BS, Business Administration, ’85) is a fourth-generation vintner at Concannon Vineyard.
(BS, Business Administration, ’94) is the human resources manager for the News & Review, headquartered in Sacramento.
(BS, Business Administration, ’87) is executive vice president and chief financial officer of Epicor Software Corporation.