April 14, 2004 – Thursday marks the 35th anniversary of the end of the Tektite I underwater habitat research project at Great Lameshur Bay.
"They were underwater 60 days," Randy Brown, president of Clean Islands International, said of the researchers with the project sponsored jointly by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, U.S. Navy, U.S. Department of the Interior and General Electric.
Clean Islands manages the V.I. Environmental Resource Station for the University of the Virgin Islands. VIERS started its life back in 1968 as the base camp for the Tektite projects.
Brown recently acquired a raft of news clippings about the project from the estate of Jean Delmage, a nurse at the Calabash Boom clinic who saved the newspaper accounts as the project progressed. "She's given us a wealth of information," Brown said, adding that he plans to create a small museum about the Tektite projects in the VIERS office.
After Tektite I concluded on April 15, 1969, the U.S. Navy ran a second Tektite project from April 4 to Oct. 29, 1970. In the second project, the aquanauts stayed underwater for shorter periods of time than the original team.
The underwater habitat was renovated between Tektite I and II. After the conclusion of the second project, it was moved to St. Croix where it stayed for a time before being transported to a California scrapyard.
Delmage's news articles may provide some of the most accurate documentation of the projects available. At Philadelphia's Independence Seaport Museum, an exhibit about underwater exploration called Divers of the Deep viewed last October by this reporter mentions that the Tektite underwater laboratory was housed at Great Lameshur Bay, St. John, in Bermuda, rather than the Virgin Islands.
Also, Brown said biologist Sylvia Earle, who spent two weeks underwater in Tektite II in 1970, calls the locale Lameshur Island in her book "Sea Change." He said that when he told her St. John was the island and Lameshur the bay, she retorted that it seemed like an island to her.
Lameshur even today is among the most remote locations on St. John. However, it sees lots of visitors these days, including school children who attend eco-camps held at VIERS.
Brown said students visited even back when the facility was the Tektite base camp. "In the photos students are touring the campsite," he said, referring to picture in the clippings Delmage saved.
From the start, the facility interacted with the community, Brown said. Seabees involved in the project built the island's first animal shelter in their spare time. "There was always that cooperation," he said.
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