Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997) was the world’s most famous oceanographer. He combined his love for the oceans with his fascination with film-making, bringing the science of oceanography to the masses. He made great contributions to the science of oceanography as well, as the co-inventor of the aqualung (a high pressure diving cylinder and a diving regulator that supplies the diver with breathing gas at the correct pressure, via a demand valve) and the inventor of a one-man, jet-propelled submarine. His personal research gleaned vast amounts of information on marine biology, botany and ecology. He was a popular writer and cultural icon. His books, articles in National Geographic, and TV programs allowed land-goers to experience the beauty of a new frontier.


Jacques-Yves Cousteau was born in the Bordeaux region of France. Cousteau’s father was a lawyer who worked and travelled with an American millionaire. The family travelled as well. Cousteau was a fragile child who had stomach problems and anaemia. Doctors warned his parents not to allow him to participate in any strenuous activities. He loved swimming, however, and spent a great deal of time on the beach.


Cousteau did not enjoy school, and in fact was expelled from one school as a teenager for breaking windows. He had a gift for engineering, however, and soon he decided to apply himself to his school work. When he graduated he entered the École Navale in 1930. He graduated second in his class and became a second lieutenant in the French navy. After a training cruise and tour of duty in Shanghai, he enrolled in flight school. Just before winning his wings, he was in a near-fatal car accident, breaking both arms. To recover his strength, he swam in the Mediterranean.


Cousteau had watched the pearl divers while stationed in China. Using a pair of underwater goggles, he began his own diving career and was inspired to develop an apparatus that would allow him to stay under the water for longer periods of time. He was still refining his design when WWII began. Cousteau served as a gunnery officer on a cruiser and later at a coastal fort. He also worked as a spy for the French underground.


Cousteau made his first underwater films during the war, and he continued his work on the aqualung. In 1942, he teamed up with engineer Émile Gagnon who provided the automatic gas-feeder valve, the final element of the aqualung. The improved version was tested in 1943 off the French Riviera, but because of the war production of the aqualung did not begin until 1946.


Cousteau was appointed head of the French navy’s Underwater Research Group. They filmed German submarines at work setting mines and conducting manoeuvres. After the war, they explored shipwrecks, studied the effects of underwater explosions, and participated in archaeological expeditions. In 1950, Cousteau founded the Campagnes Océanographiques Françaises, and in 1952, the Centre d’Etudes Marines Avanceés. Both organisations operated research ships, designed and built equipment used for underwater research, and researched man’s ability to work and live underwater.


Cousteau worked on the development of the bathyscaphes, which allow men to go deeper than they could before. He also directed the Conshelf Saturation Dive program where men lived and worked for extended periods at underwater colonies on the continental shelves.


Cousteau resigned from the French navy in 1956 to become the head of the Cousteau Group. This group worked in oceanographic research, marine engineering, manufacture of diving gear and gases, film and television projects, the arts, and environmental lobbying.


Cousteau was convinced that our survival is dependent on the oceans of the world and he strove to raise people’s awareness of our fragile ecosystem. He believed that we could meet the world’s growing energy needs by channelling the force of the tides and temperature changes of the seas. He also believed that we can feed the world with underwater farming. The Cousteau Society was formed to bring his messages of hope to the world. It is a non-profit, membership supported organisation founded in 1973. The Society is dedicated to the protection and improvement of the quality of life for present and future generations.


Thanks Jacques. Go Science!!!