Many individuals in the Florida Keys exhibit a deep appreciation and understanding of maritime heritage. Chief among them is Key Largo resident Ian Koblick, an explorer and aquanaut who has devoted his life to the scientific study of the oceans and the responsible use of marine resources.
The co-author of "Living and Working in the Sea," Koblick spent more than 40 years in the Caribbean researching and helping establish manned undersea projects — living at the bottom of the sea.
Two underwater habitats that Koblick co-developed with Dr. Neil Monney are located in Key Largo. MarineLab was designed in 1973 as part of the United States Naval Academy's ocean engineering program, and later was donated to Koblick's Marine Resources Development Foundation to be housed in a sheltered ocean lagoon.
MarineLab operates as an underwater research and environmental education facility. Koblick said nearly 200,000 students have participated in field trips to the lab for educational outreach programs to learn more about diving technology.
MarineLab's seafloor neighbor is Jules' Undersea Lodge, originally co-developed by Koblick and Monney in the 1970s as La Chalupa research laboratory. At the time, it was one of the most technologically advanced habitats of its kind.
In the 1980s, with a new name inspired by novelist Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," Jules' Undersea Lodge was transformed into the United States' only submerged recreational hotel for divers. Its entrance is located 21 feet beneath the surface.
Boasting more than 10,000 overnight guests to date, the two-bedroom, one-bath retreat also offers diving guests the world's only Recreational Aquanaut specialty recognition through Professional Association of Dive Instructors and National Association of Underwater Instructors scuba-certification agencies.
Koblick's explorations with his nonprofit Aurora Trust and the Aurora Institute of Maritime Studies have led to dozens of shipwreck discoveries. Some were found on ancient trade routes of the Greeks and Romans, while numerous others are shipwrecks, airplanes and unexploded mines from the World War II era.
In January 2012 Koblick and his marine archaeology survey team made international headlines when they announced the discovery of the British submarine HMS Olympus off the coast of Malta.
After hitting a mine on May 8, 1942, the 283-foot Odin-class sub sank, and spent 70 years sitting upright on the shallow ocean bottom a mere seven miles from shore. The relic's discovery brought closure to a mystery that, with reportedly only 11 survivors among a crew of 98 men, was considered one of the worst Royal Navy losses of the war.
Koblick said his passion for ocean research continues unabated, especially in the Keys.
"The ocean is truly our last frontier, unexplored. We don't yet know enough how to manage it or utilize it," he said, hinting at locating and sharing the remains of a maritime era dating back 500 years in Florida and the Florida Keys.
There's no telling what he will discover next as he continues to unlock the secrets of the seas.
Ian Koblick's life has been devoted to researching and exploring the oceans. Images courtesy of MRDF
Ian Koblick (left) with Aurora Trust business partner Craig Mullen and Malta's president (2004-2009), Dr. Edward Fenech Adami.
Craig Mullen and Ian Koblick (right) while exploring off the coast of Italy.