South Rowan junior spends time in an underwater habitat

  • Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2013 12:32 a.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, May 23, 2013 12:35 a.m.
Chris Hudson goes for a dive.
Chris Hudson goes for a dive.

SALISBURY — A South Rowan High School student spent 2 1/2 days with fish as his neighbors part of his senior project.

Chris Hudson, who is now a junior, said he is researching underwater habitats for a project about scuba diving and wanted to live in one for a few days.


“Mostly, I got tired of going to the library and looking stuff up,” Hudson said. “I decided to take it on and see if I could live in one for a few days.”

Hudson has gone diving with his father before. They are advanced scuba divers, meaning they have taken courses on breathing different mixtures of gases, staying underwater longer and avoiding the effects of decompression sickness and oxygen toxicity.

Hudson decided that he wanted to officially become an “aquanaut” by spending at least 24 hours underwater.

In early May, he and his father traveled down to Key Largo, Fla., to stay for a few nights in the Jules Undersea Lodge, a submarine habitat located 22.5 feet underwater.

Hudson also got to swim back and forth to a lab to perform experiments.

“We were studying new marine life we don’t actually know a lot about... and how to use it on the surface,” Hudson said. “Only a small percent of the surface area underwater has been explored. There are so many resources out there we can use that we haven’t even thought about yet.”

He said one of the most memorable creatures he studied is the mangrove tunicate, a colonial sea squirt.

It’s completely transparent, lives near the surface and somehow keeps itself from being damaged by ultraviolet rays.

Scientists already have found that a chemical produced by the animal can fight cancer, Hudson said, and now they want to see if it also holds a secret to skin cancer prevention.

On the last day of the experiment, Hudson helped give a remote lecture to two classes at a Virginia middle school about life in the habitat and what it was like.

Hudson will give a presentation about his experience next year at school. Though he’s very interested in marine life, he said he actually hopes to study Chinese cultures in college.

Hudson had planned to spend 100 hours underwater with his father, but after about 50 hours, an emergency cut their trip short.

During a night dive, when the two were out collecting specimens to study under a microscope, his father’s breathing apparatus malfunctioned and he headed up for air.

Hudson followed, finding his father unconscious at the surface of the water.

“I had to drag him to land and drain the fluid from his lungs,” Hudson said. “I used a technique I learned from the Discovery Channel. I was able to turn him on his side, and that position will open up the breathing canal, allowing things like liquid to drain from his lungs. I’m surprised it actually worked.”

Another person had run to call an ambulance, and help soon arrived on the scene.

Hudson’s father suffered some heart and breathing problems after the accident, but Hudson said he has been recovering well and is now running again.

Even after such a harrowing experience, Hudson said he’d like to try living underwater again. Jules Undersea Lodge is one of only two operating underwater habitats in the world.

“The other one is the Aquarius sealab, off the coast of Key Largo, but you have to be invited to go,” Hudson said. “I’m crossing my fingers for that one.”

He said the most striking part of living in the habitat was looking out the window and seeing nothing but water.

“Being able to say that you’ve lived underwater — telling people that seems to blow their minds,” Hudson said. “Mostly, it’s given me a whole new view on what fish and marine life do on a daily basis. You see them swimming around, but you don’t really think about what they do, how they eat, how they live, how they rest or how they sleep. It’s pretty neat.”

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

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