Key Largo underwater research lab director to retire

For almost two decades, Craig Cooper has devoted himself to his one-of-a-kind job working under the sea with scientists, Navy divers, astronauts and BOB, the Big Old Barracuda.

The 60-year-old with a bushy mustache is retiring Friday as operations director of Aquarius, the world's premiere underwater research habitat. Aquarius rests 62 feet deep in waters off Key Largo and houses six people for missions of four to 18 days.

Cooper leaves after 103 missions. His crew said some would have been "missions impossible'' if not for his navigation of the rough waters he faced from Mother Nature and bureaucracy. Cooper said it has been an amazing 19 years, from talking with astronauts at the International Space Station while under the sea to working next to Earl, the 300-pound goliath grouper that likes his belly scratched. During that time, he coordinated a 20/20 show in the habitat with Hugh Downs and undersea explorer Sylvia Earle, and worked with oceanographer Robert Ballard, who discovered the Titanic.

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