“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
Born in 1910, Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a French naval officer, explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher. A pioneer in both diving and ocean exploration, when Cousteau and his teams embarked on his ship, Calypso, to explore the world, no one yet knew the effects human life was having on the planet, particularly the world’s oceans. Through his life’s work, Cousteau played a major role in the environmental movement, using documentary film footage to educate and engage the public in both his research and the seas.
In his early years, Cousteau seemed set on a different course as his interests lie in mechanics and determining how gadgets work. Having entered the French Naval Academy with his sights set on aviation, he began training to become a pilot until an automobile accident in the mid-1930s nearly took his life and made pilot training impossible. To rehabilitate his injuries, Cousteau took to swimming in the Mediterranean Sea– a friend gave Cousteau a pair of underwater swim goggles and Cousteau’s ‘eyes open[ed] to the sea’.
Cousteau’s new passion ignited his inspiration; he delved into ocean exploration, developing and experimenting with breathing apparatuses and underwater film techniques, setting up ocean experiments and underwater laboratories.
Overtime, Cousteau grew frustrated with the limitations of goggle diving and his breathing apparatuses, as they did not provide him enough time underwater. He enlisted the help of French engineer, Emilè Gagnan, and, in 1942, after approximately three weeks, the pair developed an automatic regulator that supplied compressed air on demand – the first Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus – and SCUBA was born. This regulator, along with two tanks of compressed air, a mouthpiece and hoses, was the prototype Aqualung, which Gagnan and Cousteau patented in 1943.
From here, there were no limits to his ocean exploration, discoveries and inventions. Through more than 115 television films and 50 books, he helped open the world under the water to millions of human beings, exploring ocean and freshwater alike. Recognizing his actions as part of a much larger, organized effort to protect the planet, he created The Cousteau Society, a US-based, not-for-profit, membership group in 1974, and Equipe Cousteau, in France in 1981. His legacy and work continue forward through his widow, Francine, four children and their families.