Isolation is the new paradigm we’ve suddenly found ourselves in. A seemingly familiar situation took place back in 1963, one of the most ambitious undersea living projects by Jacques-Yves Cousteau called the “Conshelf II”. You may find this read relatable as we draw parallels between six aquanauts who spent one month living in the underwater habitat, and home quarantine.
Off the coast of Israel, in the Red Sea lies “Conshelf II” submerged 33 feet underwater. The Starfish-shaped habitat had 3 cabins equipped with beds, a hot shower, TV, Kitchen, and a radio. As sunlight didn’t reach the habitat, an ultraviolet lamp was installed to supply the aquanauts with their daily dose of Vitamin D.
The aquanauts soon began settling into their new way of life. With minimum contact to the surface, they found themselves in full isolation where time became hazy. Clock and calendar had very little significance to them, as days were powered by routine and tasks at hand. With a wide variety of specimens on their doorstep, the aquanauts wasted no time conducting experiments not possible on shore.
Working round the clock, forever feeling the need to be productive drains oneself physically and mentally. Downtime was important for morale and productivity. When work was done for the day, the crew would switch off the work radio to play music. Some relaxed over a game of chess while others cooked. Mealtime was considered a great way for them to bond.
With six men living onboard, food depleted quickly and so supplies had to be packed inside a pressurized cooker to be hand-delivered by a diver. One of the special deliveries that brought great joy to the crew was a live parrot hidden in the cooker! Like all pets, the bird eased stress and provided companionship to the crew. The colorful friend could also detect the buildup of CO2 in the habitat.
For a solid month, the aquanauts displayed great resilience living in a confined isolated spaces. They made time to enjoy life off the clock, which in turn made them a stronger crew. I think we can learn a lot from this study. These aquanauts balanced a controlled work routine with leisure, to boost morale in a confined space. Whether you fantasize about murdering your housemate, or pine to have human interaction IRL, a balanced routine seems to be key to keeping morale high. Like the aquanauts, we’re all in this together.
Cover image credit: Jacques Cousteau
By Buranee Soh with special thanks to Lauren for the invaulable input.