Worldwide Centennial Celebrations Of Jacques Cousteau’s Birth Begin

8 June 2010

Year-long plan includes re-launch of iconic vessel Calypso for marine education tour; new Cousteau Divers program

Documentary with National Geographic to contrast conditions in Mediterranean today with Cousteau’s films of the 1940s

Legendary marine explorer, inventor, innovator, filmmaker and environmental activist Jacques Cousteau was born June 11, 1910 in Saint André de Cubzac, a small town in southwest France.

To mark the centennial of his birth, the Cousteau Society is launching a year-long celebration in Paris with Cousteau’s global legion of admirers, and welcomes proposals from around the world .

The re-launch and tour of Calypso, the ship aboard which Cousteau created many of the world’s first glimpses of deep-sea life, will highlight the end of the centennial in 2011.

Instantly recognizable by his red cap and gaunt silhouette, Cousteau was just 33 when he co-invented the aqualung that enabled divers to explore ocean depths for extended periods, opening a window to an entire world then virtually unknown to humankind.

He went on to pioneer many areas, including documenting the sonar-like capabilities of dolphins, public demonstrations to protect the oceans from radioactive dumping and over-exploitation, and mass communication of marine research through films and television.

In 1996, the year before his death at age 87, Cousteau’s historic Calypso was sunk and badly damaged when a barge in Singapore accidentally rammed it. Today the vessel is in the Brittany region of France being refurbished under the direction of the Cousteau Society and l’Equipe Cousteau, led by Francine Cousteau, widow of the late explorer.

Calypso will be re-purposed as a touring educational exhibition, to include the Cousteau-designed one- and two-person mini-submarines, the underwater scooters, aqualungs, diving suits, cameras and other emblematic equipment used during his expeditions, which earned him countless awards including Emmys, Oscars and the Palme d’Or of the Cannes Film Festival.

Built at the height of the Second World War in Seattle, Washington, Calypso was commissioned as a British minesweeper in 1943, served briefly as a post-war ferry, and was acquired in 1950 by Irish millionaire and former MP Thomas Loel Guinness, who leased it to Cousteau for a symbolic one franc per year.

It was outfitted to Cousteau’s specifications in 1950, including a mobile lab to support his research and a unique “false nose,” used as an underwater observation chamber.

“It has been many years since this renowned ambassador for the seas and oceans last sailed,” says Madame Cousteau. “We need help to complete Calypso’s refurbishment, but we are extremely pleased and excited by the prospect of her touring again – the inimitable iconic Mona Lisa of the ocean – to continue the mission of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s life, fostering appreciation of both the beauty and fragility of the seas.”

Says son Pierre-Yves Cousteau: “If he were alive today, my father would surely be awed by the technology and skill behind the work of his cinematic successors, who share my father’s philosophy that ‘people protect what they love – and we love what enchants us.”

“He would be gratified by the creation of marine protected areas in many countries and by the growing community of scientists working to advance understanding and conservation of ocean biodiversity, such as those completing the first Census of Marine Life and its inventory of ocean species,” he adds.

“However, I know he would also be distressed by the ongoing pillage of oceans by industrialized fisheries, by those who decimate the seabed and indiscriminately harvest fish and by-catch by the shipload, by the catastrophes that stem from exploiting off-shore oil resources, and by the acidification of seawater due to greenhouse gases, which threatens the health of all life on Earth.”

“In this year, the 100th anniversary of his birth, we owe it to his memory to ensure that the spirit of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his work inspires new generations,” says Pierre-Yves.

“The oceans occupy nearly 72% of our planet’s surface and they contain more than 97% of all our planet’s water. They are the place where life appeared 3.8 billion years ago and remain the largest living space in our known universe. Nevertheless, less than 20% has been explored by humans and we have already damaged most of it.” says Tarik Chekchak, the Cousteau Society’s Director, Science and Environment.

“Our research with UNESCO into how best to educate people and protect our oceans and indeed all our vital waterways is more necessary today than ever – as the tragic event unfolding this past month in Gulf of Mexico sadly demonstrates.”

Under Pierre-Yves’s leadership, the Cousteau Society is developing a monitoring program of the oceans, Cousteau Divers, which will involve the active participation of divers worldwide.

“By uniting a community of divers concerned about the marine environment, Cousteau Divers will bring the legacy of Jacques-Yves Cousteau to life, making each diver an agent of the study and conservation of the aquatic realm,” says Pierre-Yves.

“Using the latest communication and multimedia technologies to engage and delight its members, Cousteau Divers will transform the way people dive and play a decisive role in the preservation of the marine environment. Cousteau Divers and Dive Centers will become stewards of the oceans – raising concern, knowledge, awareness and hope around them for the future of our blue planet.”

Starting this month, Pierre-Yves will also oversee a one-month filming expedition with the National Geographic Society in the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Cousteau Society ship Alcyone. The goal: to document changes in the Mediterranean since Captain Cousteau’s first films in the 1940s and promote the expansion of marine reserves by demonstrating their economic viability and efficiency.

“By filming in three marine areas that have been protected as reserves for more than 25 years, the divers will also present a picture of the spectacular extent to which biodiversity richness can be restored,” says Pierre-Yves. “Using archival Cousteau footage, it is hoped this unique documentary will both raise public awareness and convince European leaders to expand marine reserves.”

The public is invited to contribute to an online book of remembrances and appreciation at www.cousteau.org .

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