Happy Earth Day to You!
by Julie Cremer
Bake the Cake! Hang up the streamers! Blow up the Balloons! It’s Earth Day 2015! (Ok….it is now a few days after Earth Day by now….but we should still celebrate it!) At the ripe old age of 45, Earth Day is an a day of remembrance and action. It is a day to speak up and defend this planet we call home. And the Earth is definitely in need of protection these days. Pollution, deforestation and poaching are just a few of the various threats against our planet’s ecosystems, flora and fauna. But despite these threats lurking on the horizon, there is still hope. Like Ironman or Batman, the Earth has its own superheroes who work night and day to ensure that the Earth is protected and conserved for future generations. In this article, I would like to commemorate and remember one of these heroes, specifically, for the protection of the world’s oceans. In the year of what would have been his one-hundred and fifth birthday, we celebrate the life and legacy of Jacques Cousteau.
“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” -Jacque Cousteau
A filmmaker, military leader, inventor, explorer and scientist, Jacques Cousteau was born on June 11, 1910 in the village of Saint-Andre-de-Cubzac in southwestern France. Cousteau, right from age 4, learned how to swim and developed a lifelong passion for water and the marine world. As he entered into his teens, he also showed a fascination for mechanical objects and how they worked and operated. This would later play a crucial role in his underwater exploits and adventures. In 1930, Jacque Cousteau joined the French Naval Academy (Eco Navale) in Brest, France where he became a gunnery officer. Cousteau loved photography and was able to take pictures of exotic place and people in the Indian and South Pacific Oceans at ports-o-call.
Unfortunately, Cousteau was in a major car accident that nearly took his life in 1933. He would take part in swimming sessions in the Mediterranean Sea during the time of his rehabilitation. A friend gave him a pair of swimming goggles and this opened up a whole new and amazing world to our, at that time, young marine enthusiast.
When Paris fell to the Nazis during World War 2, Jacque Cousteau took refuge in the town of Megreve near the Swiss Border. Underwater experiments and excursions were secretly conducted by Cousteau during this time of his life. He eventually met Emile Gagnan, a French engineer, in 1943. Gagnan shared Cousteau’s love and passion for discovering and creating new things. Together, they developed the first aqua-lung device that would allow divers to stay underwater for longer periods of time. This was especially cool because compressed air cylinders had been newly invented. Gagnan and Cousteau didn’t waste the opportunity of seizing those air cylinders and developing a new breathing apparatus with snorkel hoses and body suits! Carpe diem indeed!
During the war, Cousteau aided in the development of an underwater camera that could withstand high amounts of pressure that would allow filming to take place in deeper water. In addition, he also joined the French Resistance Movement where he aided in documenting enemy troop movements and spying on Italian Armed Forces. After the war was over, he worked with the French Government to clear underwater mines. Marine exploration and filming continued to grow at this point in Cousteau’s career.
In the year of 1950, the Calypso, an oceanographic research vessel, was born. From 1950 to 1996, Cousteau conducted many, many voyages that deepened his love and knowledge of the ocean world. He, in turn, was able to share that passion and knowledge with people around the world through the various films and books that were filmed and written. His first book, “The Silent World”, that was published in 1953 later became an award-winning film. Cousteau wrote other books later on that included “The Shark”, “Dolphins” and “Jacques Cousteau: The Ocean World.” The hour-long television special, The World of Jacque-Yves Cousteau, began airing in 1966 on the ABC television network. Two years later, he created The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau; a television series that ran for nine seasons! Jacque Cousteau began to realize, while filming, just how harmful mankind was being to the world’s oceans. As a way to promote understanding and awareness of the importance of preserving the Earth’s oceans, Cousteau founded the Cousteau Society in 1973. Shortly afterward, the organization blossomed to 300,000 members worldwide (quite an achievement for that time period).
Its incredible how just one individual can change the world with their dedication, perseverance and passion. Jacque Cousteau is indeed one of these people. He was a brave pioneer in the realm of underwater exploration and was one of the first to walk through the door leading into a deeper understanding of our planet’s oceans. Even though Jacque Cousteau passed away eighteen years ago, we have not forgotten his legacy or passion. Furthermore, I greatly hope that future generations will not forget the amazing life and legacy of this incredible man. In Memoriam Jacque Cousteau.
“The future rests in the hands of young people. By capturing children’s interest in the undersea world at an early age, we inspire them to continue learning about it — and about how to care for our precious Water Planet — throughout their lives.”
– Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau