Two Weeks Under The Italian Sea

living underwater (pizzey, EN, 9/22/07)

For the last two weeks, a picture postcard bay on the Italian island of Ponza was a cauldron.

CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey reports this is why: Three men and three women have just spent two weeks living in pods 30 feet under the Tyrrhenian Sea.

They set a record for undersea habitation, but it was more than a stunt.

"It's an unusual possibility to perform medical examinations," says Annamaria D'Amore, the project's head doctor.

A team of twenty doctors monitored the divers 24 hours a day urine, heart rates, cognitive and psychological changes, even their breath to assess the effects of prolonged immersion.

But science aside, pretty much everyone here cheerfully admits being inspired by the Jules Verne classic "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea."

"See how peaceful it is here," Captain Nemo says aboard the Nautilus. "The sea is everything, an immense reservoir of nature where I can roam at will."

Well "at will" is still in the realm of fantasy.

One advantage to living in the house under the sea is that you don't get unexpected visitors because this address gives a whole new meaning to dropping in for a quick visit.

The four diving bells - three for living and one "common room" - were anchored with more than 100 tons of ballast. Almost nine miles of cables and hoses held the bells in place and supplied air and solar-generated power.

The obvious question is why would anyone volunteer to live here.

"You know over this experience there is, I think, nothing," says film technician Isabella Moreschi. "You know its like to go on the moon so its very ... unique."

Swimming coach Luca Giordani's reason: "Because I like the sea and downside is very, very wonderful."

It took the divers three months to learn how to cope with the equipment needed for survival.

And being Italians that, of course, includes the phone.

The six divers spent 70 percent of their waking hours in the water, just about enough time to master underwater billiards.

What scientific value will come from the $1.4 million project is an open question. But one of the 95-strong support team, who splashed out $140,000 of his own money, summed up his reward this way.

"This is a dreams, this is a dreams," says Pierfranco Bozzi. "For me and also for all the people."

Captain Nemo's dream lives on off the coast of Italy.