Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau
Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau left his mark forever on the planet and the oceans. When Cousteau and his teams embarked aboard Calypso to explore the world, no one yet knew about the effects of pollution, over-exploitation of resources and coastal development. The films of Calypso’s adventures drew the public’s attention to the potentially disastrous environmental consequences of human negligence. Cousteau, through his life and his work, was a major player in the environmental movement.
The ocean’s call
Jacques-Yves Cousteau was born on June 11, 1910, in Saint-André-de-Cubzac (Gironde) in France. He entered the naval academy in 1930, was graduated and became a gunnery officer. Then, while he was training to be a pilot, a serious car accident ended his aviation career. So it was the ocean that would win this adventurer’s soul. In 1936, near the port of Toulon, he went swimming underwater with goggles. It was a breath-taking revelation.
Seeking a way to explore underwater longer and more freely, he developed, with engineer Emile Gagnan, the Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, or scuba, in 1943, and the world under the sea was opened up to human beings. After World War II, Cousteau, along with naval officer Philippe Tailliez and diver Frédéric Dumas, became known as the ” mousquemers ” (” musketeers of the sea “) as they carried out diving experiments in the sea and laboratory. In 1950, Calypso, a former mine-sweeper, was modified into an oceanographic vessel, endowed with instruments for diving and scientific research, and the great adventure began. She and her crews explored the seas and rivers of the world for the next four decades.
Diving saucers, undersea houses and ongoing improvements to the Aqua-LungTM showed the Cousteau touch. With Professor Lucien Malavard and engineer Bertrand Charrier, Cousteau studied how to design a new complementary wind-power system, the Turbosail™, and, in 1985, the ship Alcyone was launched, using the new invention. Today, she is the Cousteau team’s expedition vessel.
Through more than 115 television films and 50 books, Captain Cousteau opened up the oceans to millions of households. Made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor for his service in the Résistance, Captain Cousteau was promoted to the rank of officier then commandeur in recognition of his contributions to science. A member of the US Academy of Sciences, he was also Director of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco for thirty years. In 1977, the United Nations awarded him the International Environmental Prize. He received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985. Then, in 1988, he was inscribed in the UN Environmental Programme’s Global 500 Roll of Honor of Environmental Protection and received the National Geographic Society’s Centennial Award. Showered with awards, he was elected to the Académie française in 1989.
Realizing that it would take an organized effort to protect the planet, in 1974, Captain Cousteau created The Cousteau Society, a US-based, not-for-profit, membership group. Then, in 1981, Fondation Cousteau (later Equipe Cousteau) was born in France. From these bases of supporters, he launched a worldwide petition campaign in 1990 to save Antarctica from mineral exploitation. His effort was successful: this pristine continent is now protected, for at least 50 years. The global reach of his influence was evident when, in 1992, the Captain received an official invitation to participate in the UN Conference on Development and the Environment held in Rio de Janeiro.
Captain Cousteau died on June 25, 1997, at the age of 87. The man is gone but his message has never been more alive. The Cousteau Society and Equipe Cousteau keep it ever in the forefront of public awareness.