Today we plunge into the pioneering world of Jacque-Yves Cousteau, a French oceanographer, researcher, filmmaker, and undersea explorer who invented scuba devices aka Aqua-Lung that unchained man from the surface.
Cousteau started his dream journey to be a Navy pilot in 1930 at the French Naval Academy but was shattered midway by a serious car crash that nearly took his life. With both arms broken, Cousteau would swim every day in the Mediterranean Sea to rehabilitate them. His life took a 360 turn when he received a goggle as a gift that opens his eyes to the enchanting underwater world; igniting his passion for the ocean and marine creatures.
It didn’t take him much time to dive back into the Mediterranean with camera in hand and fellow spearfisherman, Philippe Talliez alongside. Together they created a pioneering short film called 18 Meters Deep without using any breathing apparatus. It was the first French underwater film that won an award at the Congress of Documentary Film in 1943.
To have more time capturing the footage for his film underwater, Cousteau used Freeflow systems that though did it job, it wasn’t good enough. Out of the desire to stay underneath longer to complete his filming goals, he worked with French engineer Émile Gagnan to developed the first fully automatic compressed-air Aqua-Lung, revolutionizing diving by successfully breaking the air connection from the surface, allowing divers to swim freely.
After the war had ended, Cousteau continues to work with the French navy to clear underwater mines between missions, he would go underwater with Aqua-lung, filming shipwrecks such as the Roman Mahdia, marking the first and start of underwater archaeology operation.
In 1951, Cousteau decided to take scientific leave from the military service for he knows his heart lies in the ocean. He set sail on Calypso, a British Yard Minesweeper turned into oceanographic research vessel, dedicating himself fully to documenting his journey in ocean exploring and conservation to educate and raise awareness of the threat to our oceans caused by climate change and industrial development.
However, Cousteau was not always an Ocean conservationist. In an era where science and exploration were far more important than anything else, Cousteau was guilty of blowing up the coral reef with dynamite in search of shipwrecks. It was an act that he was extremely remorseful about and instead of burying the truth, he owns his mistake with humbling courage, using it to educate people about its consequences and damages to the ocean.
He played a key role in restricting commercial whaling and spearheaded the movement to stop the French government from dumping nuclear waste into the Mediterranean Sea in 1960.He later founded The Cousteau Society in 1973 that advocates for the silent underwater world, exploring and protecting our ocean environment and marine life.
Though Cousteau is no longer with us, his legacy still inspires the world and lives on strongly through his children and grandchildren, every day they do him proud by continuing his fight to protect our oceans.
“People protect what they love.” - Jacques Cousteau
Words by Buranee Soh