Remembering Jacques Cousteau: Carrying on the Legacy on His 100th Birthday

My father, Captain Jacques Cousteau, would have been 100 years old
today. He was a man of undeniable charisma, a man who always achieved
his objectives, a man of such single-minded determination that he would
not give up on a goal until he had achieved it. His lifelong vision was
to help millions of people understand the fragility of life on what he
called our "'water planet."

From his famous research ship Calypso, my father was one of the first
to draw attention to the devastating results of overfishing, climate
change and the effect of pollution on our underwater habitats. He became
a global ambassador for the sea, a kind of spiritual guide for the

He would be heartbroken at what is taking place in our seas today,
especially the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. One of the
memories I carry with me to this day is of my father standing on the
deck of our wind ship, Alcyone, looking ahead to the legacy he might
leave behind. He issued me a challenge that belonged not only to me, but
to all who are determined to protect our seas. "It is you, Jean-Michel,
who will carry the flame of my faith." Yes, it is on me, and on all of
us, to carry on the work of this brilliant, passionate man in protecting
our natural resources and to acknowledge the incredible privilege we
all share on Planet Ocean.

The more I look back on my father's life and work, the more I realize
what a visionary he was, even though he would not have used that term
to describe himself. He was a pioneer who broke barriers with his
inventions such as the aqua-lung, scuba diving apparatuses and
submersibles; his name became synonymous with underwater exploration,
ocean photography and conservation; and I believe he did more than
anyone to enlighten the world about the complexity of the ocean's
ecology and the importance of preserving it.

My father introduced my brother, Philippe, and me to the wonders of
the ocean at an early age, and we shared his passion for the sea and his
work. One of my father's greatest wishes was to educate all children to
be future stewards of the sea. To help fulfill this wish and to
continue his legacy, I founded the Ocean Futures Society, a marine
conservation and education organization, to open up the seas for young
people and instill in them a love of the ocean in the same way my father
did for me.

As the centenary of his birth approached, I have thought often about
my father and the many moments we shared. Paradoxically, one of the
times I felt closest to him was a few weeks after his death in 1997. I
was with a group preparing for a dive, and I asked if I could have a few
minutes in the water by myself. As I swam in a large kelp forest, I
noticed an unusual opening in the kelp, which exposed the sandy ocean
floor. The sun's rays shone through the opening, lighting up the patch
of sand, like a spotlight on an empty stage. All around me were
brightly-colored fish that shimmered in the sunlight like festive
candles announcing an underwater fiesta. Overcome with emotion, I
dropped to my knees. It felt as if my father was with me on the
sun-splashed open floor. He was here, among the dazzling seaweeds, among
the sparkling fish. This is the real Cousteau, I remember thinking.
This is where he lived; this is where he will remain.

"People protect what they love," my father once said. My wish today,
as we mark his 100th birthday, is that we redouble our efforts to love
and cherish our planet and the seas that he championed.

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