If you’ve ever wondered what life might be like if we developed underwater settlements, I’ve got bad news for you.

Well, I have bad news for you that you might have missed 50 years ago.

While looking through back issues for the Fishing Back When section in the March issue of National Fisherman, I came across an article from 1966 that explored the idea of humans colonizing the ocean. Pretty cool idea, huh?

Apparently, it would be terrible.

According to experienced diver and underwater researcher Prof. John E. Bardach, Earth’s oceans, much like space, would be “hostile to extended residence.”

“Underwater existence is by no means as simple and easy as optimistic reports would have it — nor, in most places we will want to go for economic reasons, as beautiful as a Jacques Cousteau film would make it seem,” he said.

He said no underwater location would be a satisfactory place to live and that we should stick to looking to the ocean for food, minerals, recreation and research only.

According to Bardach, the cold temperatures and poor visibility would be issues even in nearshore waters. The pressure alone in deeper waters make free diving impossible.

“OK,” I thought. “All of that seems fair.”

But toward the end of this article, Bardach admits that advancing the idea of underwater habitats would be possible with significant resources.

“If we spent as much money on the project as we do some space exploration, we probably could develop an artificial gill with sufficient surface to enable us to breathe underwater,” he said.

He notes that it would likely be large and unwieldy though.

I don’t need to tell you how far technology has come since 1966. Bardach made these comments before the moon landing, so the means we have available to us now are obviously leaps and bounds ahead of what he imagined.

The thought of life underwater is interesting, even if we’re just talking about science fiction. This article probably jumped out at me because I recently watched “The Martian” during a cross-country flight. (No spoilers, but Matt Damon is trying to survive alone on Mars and tries to grow his own food.) The idea of colonizing Mars is something people talk about today, but the biggest problem is the planet’s lack of water sources.

Guess where we wouldn’t have that problem? The ocean, duh.

Space is cool and all, but I think it’s about time we started shifting some of that money into developing those artificial gills that Bardach mentioned.

After all, there aren’t any fish in space.

Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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