For 100 days, University of South Florida professor and researcher Joseph Dituri, Ph.D., lived in a confined underwater habitat, not in an attempt to break a world record – though he did by 27 days – but to conduct a study on the effects of compression on the human body while bringing awareness to ocean conservation and marine research.
Located in Key Largo, Jules’ Undersea Lodge – the world’s only underwater hotel – is where the mission, dubbed Project NEPTUNE 100, officially began on March 1. Of course, to understand what led Dituri to voluntarily live below the water’s surface for over three months one would have to understand his background and the events that led up to this aquatic adventure.
Dituri, fondly referred to as Dr. Deep Sea, grew up in Long Island and can remember marking the stages of his life by which boat his dad had at the time. While trying to haul one such boat out of one of a New York canal, Dituri struggled to stay under the boat long enough to complete the task at hand. To remedy this, his father slipped a large backpack equipped with a tank and double hose regulator (the diving standard in the ’70s that made respiration underwater possible) onto the young Dituri and told him to breathe.
“And that,” Dituri recalls, “was the entirety of my scuba diving lesson.”
From that moment on, scuba diving and ocean exploration became a lifelong passion for Dituri whose career includes 28 years in the U.S. Navy, where he earned degrees in computer science and astronautical engineering, and a position with the U.S. Special Operations Command.
After witnessing the effects untreated traumatic brain injuries had on special operation retirees and similar industries, Dituri got his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and founded the Undersea Oxygen Clinic to treat such conditions, which became more personal when Dituri himself suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Alongside his professional endeavors, Dituri joined various exploratory dives and became Director of the International Board of Undersea Medicine, which helped sponsor Dituri’s 100-day underwater research project developed by the Marine Resources Developmental Foundation.
During Project NEPTUNE 100, Dituri and his 12-person medical team performed several human physiology studies, tested medical devices and worked toward developing 3D sponges for habitat restoration. Research aside, while living in the undersea lodge, Dituri also conducted over 200 interviews, lectured 5,000 STEM students and performed outreach efforts.
Despite suffering a chipped tooth on day 12 and a nausea-inducing sinus infection on day 92, Dituri was never going to cut his trip short, instead, he focused on the scientific progress being made and the impact this mission had on everyone involved from the joy of a 13-year-old girl who, after 15 attempts, managed to swim deep enough to wave at Dituri through the lodge’s porthole or the realization that diving can be accomplished at any age as Dituri’s mother became a certified diver just to visit him.
On June 9, Dituri emerged from his underwater home armed with over three months of research studies and further advocacy for ocean conservation, exploration and research – some of which could help with medical breakthroughs.
From learning to dive in the New York canals; studying cures for traumatic brain injuries before suffering one himself; becoming enamored with the unknown to helping unearth the undiscovered; everything Dituri has done has led to embarking on and accomplishing this headline-making, record-breaking, scientific feat.
“Maybe that’s the real takeaway, right? Is that you’re on this earth for a purpose and when you find your purpose, oh boy,” he says. “I want to keep doing this because this floats my boat. This makes me whole and I hope that all you people find their passion because once you find it, you’re great, man, you’re second to none.”