Committee on Science and Technology
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Member Speeches :: May 7, 2009

E&E Subcommittee Chairman Baird’s remarks on the Floor on loss of Aquanaut at NOAA Undersea Research Center

Dewey Smith died performing underwater research dive

I rise today to pay tribute to Dewey Smith, a young man who tragically lost his life Tuesday in the course of his duties at the Aquarius Undersea Research Station.  He will be greatly missed by his friends, family, and colleagues.

Dewey’s life was tied to the sea from his childhood growing up on the Gulf Coast in Panama City, FL.  As a young man, he served his country as a United States Navy Hospital Corpsman.  For five years he cared for the health and well being of his fellow sailors.  After leaving the Navy and attending college, he found himself at home back in the water, training at Florida State University’s Underwater Crime Scene Investigation Program focusing on scientific and surface supplied diving.  Eventually, his path led him to NOAA’s Undersea Research Center, Aquarius.
Aquarius combined the elements of Dewey’s passion for science and the sea. Located three and a half miles off the coast of Key Largo, Florida, the underwater laboratory is dedicated to scientific research and training missions.  It is the only permanent underwater laboratory in the world, and its facilities are used in partnership with NASA and the Navy to train astronauts, divers, and develop technology. Since it began operations in 1993 at its current location, Aquarius and its team have safely conducted over 90 missions.
The contribution to ocean science by Dewey Smith and his fellow Aquarius aquanauts is immeasurable. The Aquarius Reef Base supports a long term coral reef monitoring platform, an ocean observation platform, and surface-based research. Since its inception, the team at Aquarius has employed a coral reef and fish monitoring assessment program to track the devastating impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems.
Aquanauts such as Dewey have also successfully reached out to the world beyond the scientific community, successfully educating school children, environmental advocates, and government agencies on the changes occurring in the world’s oceans. Employing the most state of the art communication technology, the aquanauts correspond with students and the public while underwater on long-term missions. Dewey’s responses to school children’s questions reveal not only his expertise and eloquence, but his desire to share the knowledge gained at Aquarius in hopes of saving the marine ecosystem he worked with.
The work done at Aquarius by brave aquanauts such as Dewey improves the lives of many Americans, from Astronauts whose health and safety are ensured through technology developed under water, to fishermen whose livelihoods depend on understanding the effects of climate change on the world’s marine ecosystems.
Dewey, along with the other Aquarius aquanauts, risked his life daily, not only for his love of the sea, but for the causes of research, education, and conservation which benefit us all.  In a few short minutes on Tuesday afternoon, a dedicated aquanaut was suddenly lost in the course of an otherwise standard mission. Let us not risk also losing the work that he was so passionate about. I stand today not only to mourn the death of a beloved friend, son, brother, and colleague. Looking forward, I hope that Dewey’s life will continue to inspire the important work of preserving the world’s oceans. I offer my sincere condolences to Dewey Smith’s family, and honor him as a man who died serving his country in pursuit of scientific progress.

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