Jacques Cousteau

Champion of the Ocean

 

If you don't become the ocean, you will be seasick every day. - Leonard Cohen

If you don’t become the ocean, you will be seasick every day.
                                                      – Leonard Cohen

  The impossible missions are the only ones that succeed.                                                                                                                    –   Jacques Yves Cousteau

How appropriate that World Oceans Month is celebrated the same month as Jacques Cousteau’s birthday, June 11. It’s hard to think of anyone who has had a more profound effect on the oceans than Cousteau.

Born in 1910, Jacques Yves Cousteau grew up like any normal boy, maybe more so. People are sometimes surprised that he struggled in school. Now I realize there’s hope for me.

Cousteau’s passion for the sea might never have developed had it not been for an automobile accident. He broke both arms and nearly lost his life. It set him on a life quest that ended where all life began. In the sea.

Make no mistake about it. Cousteau was no slacker, waiting to be catered to. He was tough, passionate, and brave. During World War II, he joined the French Resistance Movement working as a spy. He also worked at the dangerous job of clearing underwater mines.

It was when he went swimming in the Mediterranean Sea that a friend gave him goggles.  It opened his eyes to a world he could never have dreamed of and Jacques Cousteau fell in love with the sea. It held him so deeply that he spent the rest of his life sharing it with the public.

He put it most eloquently when he said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”

Among Cousteau’s many roles were French naval officer, explorer, conservationist, author, and researcher. Hundreds of books have been written by or about Jacques Cousteau and his achievements so it’s hard to do his life the justice it deserves in a few sentences.

Divers both recreational and professional literally owe their lives to Cousteau who with Emile Gagnan in 1943 developed practical scuba gear called the Aqua-lung. Finally mankind could dive underwater and truly explore the wonders there.

Profoundly insightful, he knew explorers on any mission needed a base from which to operate. Underwater was no different, and he developed an underwater laboratory called Conshelf I where humans could live and carry out research for long periods at a time. It was so successful, it gave birth to Conshelf II and III.

With his vision, he founded the FOC (French Oceanographic Campaigns) in 1950 and refitted the Calypso, making it a maritime research center. It was an extraordinary move at a time when the world was merrily spraying everything with DDT. But people like Jacques Cousteau and Rachel Carson were just beginning to prick our consciences.

In 1953, he penned Silent World with Frederic Dumas, introducing the world to a fascinating look at life under the sea. The book sold five million copies. He turned it into an award-winning documentary filming aboard the Calypso in 1956. Continue reading →