Explorer plans underwater broadcast Students will get to query scientists during program

February 18, 1996|By FORT LAUDERDALE SUN-SENTINEL

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When international explorer Robert Ballard dives the reefs off Key Largo in April, nearly a half-million students from around the world will be watching.

Many will be able to ask questions of Ballard and his team of scientists -- while they are underwater. Some may be able to push a button on a computer to maneuver one of Mr. Ballard's famous submersibles.

The $6 million high-tech learning adventure, dubbed "JASON Project VII: Adapting to a Changing Sea," is designed to study South Florida's coastal habitats and determine man's effect on the sea.

The project began last month with scientists, students and teachers exploring the Everglades and Florida Bay. It will culminate April 15 to 26 in the Florida Keys, with exploration of reefs and an as-yet-unexplored shipwreck in about 400 feet of water off Key Largo.

"I'm concerned about the next generation and the oceans. How are we going to live in harmony with the ocean and not destroy it? And how can we learn from Florida's interaction with the ocean?" said Mr. Ballard, renowned for locating the watery graves of the Titanic, the Bismarck and the Lusitania with a submersible robot named Jason.

To help beam the live broadcasts to schools worldwide, the Florida Department of Education is donating 17 days of free satellite time to the project.

"Robert Ballard is a pioneer, and he has reached out to the youngsters of the world, to show them that the scientific community is something to embrace and revel in," Education Commissioner Frank Brogan said Thursday at a news conference with Mr. Ballard to announce the state's role in the project. "One of the residual effects of this project will be a look at Florida's sensitive and endangered ecosystems. And we'll be able to educate the adults about the crisis we're facing."

Mr. Ballard said he founded the JASON project in 1989 because of thousands of letters he received from students after he located the wreckage of the Titanic. The project, named after the Greek mythological characters Jason and the Argonauts, annually focuses on an environmentally sensitive area. Last year it was Hawaii; next year it will be Iceland.

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