The closest that most people come to living under the sea is watching The Little Mermaid or gazing through the glass of massive aquarium tanks. For Dr. Joseph Dituri, nicknamed Dr. Deep Sea, aquatic life is no longer a fantasy, but a reality. On March 1, he submerged into the Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Florida with the goal of living underwater for 100 days to advance medical understanding of the body’s response to prolonged increased physical pressure experienced with subsea habitation. 

Dituri, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and assistant professor of medicine at the University of South Florida medical school, has long been fascinated with the ocean. He was in the Navy for 28 years, where he worked as a saturation diving officer. Many of his colleagues were noteworthy scientists and inspired by them, he went on to study medicine with a focus on traumatic brain injuries. Hyperbaric medicine, which dates back to the 1600s, represents one treatment method for such ailments. According to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a subsect of hyperbaric medicine, entails “breathing 100 percent oxygen at a pressure greater than the surrounding atmosphere,” and “helps accelerate healing by stimulating the growth of new blood vessels, tissue and bone cells.” When underwater, humans experience increased pressure, which Dituri is undergoing while working in the lodge. “I’m at a greater pressure than people at the surface,” he says, “and I’m studying what happens to patients living in an isolated and compressed environment at that higher pressure.” 

Images Courtesy of Dr. Joesph Dituri

Accompanied by a 10-person medical team studying everything from his physical to psychological state, Dituri also works with 100 other people helping to facilitate his mission. Based on his studies, he hypothesizes that this period spent underwater will improve his overall health. So far, the results appear promising. Dituri’s sleep data illustrates positive trends and above-average levels of REM sleep, allowing him to remain awake and alert for media interviews, classes with his university students, online lessons with high schoolers across the globe and sessions spent writing the sequel to his novel, entitled Secrets in Depth. Going about his daily routine, Dituri has become acquainted with the marine life that surrounds the lodge, like nurse sharks, squids, schools of fish and seahorses. “Fred the lobster lives right here,” he adds, “and because I live here too, I got to watch him molt.” Human friends, like a 13-year-old girl who dove down to high-five Dituri through his portal window, also frequent his space. 

While he broke the world record for the longest time spent living undersea in a fixed location on May 13, Dituri is more focused on inspiring a passion for the ocean in the next generation and furthering medical research. Scientists can apply his work to areas of study beyond the ocean and Earth itself. “Elon Musk talks about going to Mars, but it will take us 200 days to get there,” he says, hopeful that his findings will yield helpful insights for future voyages below the sea and to outer space. “I want to ignite the spirit of discovery in kids and encourage them to explore STEM careers. Kids are the key.”