Jacques-Yves Cousteau has been called
the "explorer of the world of silence". He invented
SCUBA and pioneered unaided deep sea diving and underwater photography. He is regarded as one of the first scientists to foster and promote interest in protection of the underwater environment.
Jacques Yves Cousteau was born in 1910 and
died in 1997.
He had a privileged
background because his father was the lawyer for an American billionaire. At 13, he had already developed a passion for amateur film-making. Jacques-Yves
also loved the sea and enjoyed sailing and swimming. He attended Naval
School, then became an officer in the French navy and also learned to
fly. A serious car accident in 1936 forced him to give up his career
as a pilot.
During World War II, Cousteau concentrated
on underwater photography. With his camera fitted inside a glass bowl,
he spent his free time filming shipwrecks and the magnificent underwater
world of the Mediterranean, in waters then still totally unpolluted.
His dreams would soon come true: in 1943,
with the help of engineer Emile Gagnan, he designed an underwater breathing
apparatus based on compressed air contained inside a cylinder. The invention
of the "Aqua-Lung " (SCUBA) made the two men very rich.
An early diver dressed even for a shallow dive
|At that time, divers had to wear suits connected to the surface by an
air tube. Their suits and helmets were very heavy and cumbersome. This meant that divers could not be free to explore.
dreamed of being able to dive freely. He wanted people to be able to swim underwater like fish, able to breathe easily and without the restrictions that the deep sea diving gear imposed.
He managed to find sponsors to help
him in his studies of the ocean. A sponsor bought up an old British
minesweeper and converted it into an oceanographic vessel. It
was called the Calypso. With a team of diving film makers, Jacques-Yves
slowly developed the techniques to make underwater movies. This
was the first time anyone had done this. These films helped to
make him rich and famous.
Cousteau and his wife prepare for one of the early SCUBA dives
then on, Cousteau was able to make dive after dive with the aid of his
invention, filming shipwrecks from the war for the French Navy, or ancient
wrecks for his own pleasure as amateur archaeologist.
In 1947, he reached
the record depth of 100 metres and suddenly discovered his passion for oceanography.
Each season, Cousteau and his team explored
the Red Sea or the Saint Lawrence, the Antarctic or the Amazon. He produced
fifty books, two encyclopedias, several films and, above all, some
one hundred documentaries snapped up by TV stations all over the world.
|By now, Cousteau devoted part of each year
to underwater exploration around the world. He welcomed on board the
Calypso scientists from all fields - geologists, geophysicists, biologists,
zoologists, archaeologists, environmentalists.
The public owes most of its knowledge
of ocean life to the television programs of Jacques Cousteau.
Although the early programs were in black and white, they captivated audiences globally.
To film and work underwater, Cousteau
designed small "diving saucers" and, later, underwater
cabins. These could work at a depth of 110 metres. Sometimes the "oceanauts"
worked at this depth for up to several weeks at a time.After many years on the oceans, the explorer
had become aware of the threat posed by people to marine eco-systems
and the Planet as a whole.
In 1960, he campaigned against the dumping
of radioactive waste in the Mediterranean and General de Gaulle, then
President of the Republic, put an end to the practice.
In the United
States, in 1974, he set up the Cousteau Society to promote the protection
of the Planet and to raise funds. At the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil,
in 1992, he launched a petition for the rights of future generations
which received more than 5 million signatures. The media nicknamed him
He died on June 25, 1997, at the age of
87. Today, his work is carried on by his family who also organise eco-tours and continue to film the mysteries of the deep.
Source: Antoine Trièves Journalist © ministère des Affaires étrangères.