COUSTEAU, Jacques-Yves

France (1910-1997)

Last updated: May 25, 2020 at 3:01 am

Diving pioneer, visionary, and inventor; world-famous underwater explorer and advocate for the environment; prolific author and film producer; was the first¹ to win a Palme d’Or for a documentary film at the Cannes Film Festival in (The Silent World, 1956); pioneered marine conservation; founder of the Cousteau Society / Équipe Cousteau, an environmental protection foundation with 300,000 members; was often received by world leaders and heads of state, including presidents, prime-ministers and the United Nations, to discuss exploration and environmental issues; became focused on his passion for underwater exploration after an automobile accident ended his dream of becoming a pilot in the French Navy in 1935; did his first freedive in the Mediterranean wearing a pair of Fernez goggles loaned by Philippe Tailliez, while recovering from the car crash in 1936; co-inventor of the Aqua-Lung, the world’s first open-circuit scuba regulator to attain worldwide commercial success; first tested the Aqua-Lung in the Marne River in January 1943; did his first sea dives with the Aqua-Lung in the Mediterranean in June 1943; co-founder of the Groupe d’étude et de recherche sous-marines (GERS) in 1945; first to dive or document dozens of famous shipwrecks including the RHS Britannic and the Roraïma (Martinique); led the world’s first underwater archaeological excavation on scuba off Mahdia, Tunisia, in 1948; transformed a former minesweeper and car ferry into the world’s most famous oceanographic vessel, the Calypso in 1950; co-invented the world’s first maneuverable research submersible in 1957; director of the Monaco Oceanographic Museum from 1957 to 1988; led the world’s first multi-day manned underwater habitat mission in 1962; was one of the Mousquemers along with Frédéric DumasPhilippe Tailliez, and Léon Vêche; his legacy includes multiple underwater firsts (see below), over 120 television documentaries and more than 50 books, including The Silent World: A Story of Undersea Discovery and Adventure, first published in 1953; pioneered a new form of scientific communication called divulgationism, a.k.a. popular science, which is a simple way of sharing scientific concepts with a general audience, and that subsequently became the norm of modern television broadcasting; inspired thousands to become scuba divers; father of Jean-Michel Cousteau (1938), Philippe Cousteau (1940), Diane Cousteau (1980), and Pierre-Yves Cousteau (1982); numerous schools and public places around the world are named in his honour; was respectfully parodied in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou cult film (2004); portrayed in L’Odyssée in 2016; a.k.a. Captain Cousteau, Captain Planet, JYC.

¹ The Silent World was also the only documentary film to win a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival till 2004.

“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free. Buoyed by water, he can fly in any direction — up, down, sideways — by merely flipping his hand. Under water, man becomes an archangel.”

Sometimes we are lucky enough to know our lives have been changed, to discard the old and embrace the new and run headlong down an immutable course. It happened to me… on that summer’s day when my eyes were opened to the sea.”

“When a person takes his first dive, he is born to another world.”

“People protect what they love, they love what they understand, and they understand what they are taught.”

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”

“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.”

“I am not a scientist. I am, rather, an impresario of scientists.”

“For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it.”

“No one can absolutely control the direction of his life; but each person can certainly influence it. The armchair explorers who complain that they never got their “one lucky shot” were never really infected by the incurable drive to explore. Those who have the bug… go.”

“There must be ways to live in peace other than leaving it in the hands of governments.”

“Il faut aller voir (We must go and see for ourselves)”

— Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Commandeur de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2013)
U.S. National Inventors Hall of Fame (2010)
International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame (2000)
Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia (1990)
Television Hall of Fame (1987)
Chevalier de l’ordre national du Mérite (1985)
U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom (1985)
Officier de l’ordre du Mérite maritime (1980)
Pahlavi Prize (United Nations, 1977)
Commandant de la Légion d’honneur (1972)
Diver of the Year (Our World-Underwater, 1971)
NOGI Award (Distinguished Service, 1966)
National Geographic Society Special Gold Medal (1961)
Croix de guerre 1939–1945 (1945)

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