Interviewer: Today we’re meeting Professor Bruce Cantrell, biology expert and scuba diver. Professor, you teach biology but you also instruct your students in scuba diving. Why?

Cantrell: They must be able to dive when I take them on field trips to study coral reefs. It’s easier to understand science when you get to see how nature works. I love watching students’ reactions to the view of the ocean on their first dive with me. That joy or excitement visible on their faces when they make the connection between the classroom and the underwater world is always very gratifying. It gives meaning to my work.

Interviewer: Let’s talk about your recent project which included breaking a world record for time spent under water. Together with another biology professor, Jessica Fain, you spent 73 days in an underwater habitat, the Florida Undersea Lodge.

Cantrell: Breaking the record was just part of the project. Our fundamental aim was to encourage young minds to explore the world of science. If you ask primary school children what their favourite subject is, nine out of ten will say it’s science or maths. But, once they are in high school, very few pick science and maths as their top choices. I asked myself how we could get their interest back and I thought there was no better place from which to appeal to them than an undersea habitat.

Interviewer: What did you focus on during your mission?

Cantrell: One important thing we did was a live, weekly broadcast called Classroom Under the Sea. We had experts on the underwater environment who talked about current problems regarding our oceans. Everybody who wanted to tune in could watch the talks for free in real time. These live broadcasts were unprecedented in the history of marine science and education.

Interviewer: You must have had a really tight schedule.

Cantrell: Definitely. Even our weekends were busy. We invited teenage scuba divers to an event which we called Lunch with the Aquanaut. To spend a few hours with Jessica and me they actually had to dive down to the Lodge.

Interviewer: As for threats to the ocean discussed in your broadcast, what did your guests say about the devastation of coral reefs?

Cantrell: Well, we all hear about how our coral reefs are dying. But our experts were much more positive than you would expect. Scientists can now grow coral for transplant much faster than it grows naturally. They have thousands of pieces of coral ready to be put back on reefs. The problem is not the science, divers, boats or even Mother Nature. Today the main difficulty we experience in the restoration of coral reefs is bureaucracy. Before any project can start, piles of forms have to be filled in and many emails have to be exchanged with different institutions. And it’s so time-consuming...

Interviewer: And the last question. Do you feel your project achieved its goals?

Cantrell: I think we achieved much more than we expected. Schools responded marvellously. We had children write letters, draw pictures and even write poems or songs. We Skyped with schools, we gave live interviews and our message spread worldwide. Articles about our Classroom Under the Sea project have appeared in over 40 countries.

Interviewer: That’s very good news. Thank you for being with us today.
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