Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau: Oceanographer

A Plowboy Interview conducted by Alice Ballard interviewing Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, director of Musee Oceanographic, Monaco, at Oceanography 2000 in Annapolis, Md., in 1969.

| September/October 1970

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    Jacques Cousteau at the Oceanography 2000 Conference at Annapolis, Md. in 1969.
    Photo by John Shuttleworth

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Of the many oceanographic conferences held in 1969, one  — Oceanography 2000 was unique: It was held for students. Jointly conducted by the U.S. Naval Institute which is the Navy’s professional society and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland from December 10th through 13th, the gathering brought 575 college students face to face with world famous oceanographers such as Jacques Cousteau and Roger Revelle. 

Cousteau’s address was particularly effective against the current “the-sea-is-inexhaustable-let’s harvest (rape)-the-bounty” thinking we hear so much of these days. That’s the old “buffalo hunter” mentality, gang, and it ain’t gonna work under water any better than it’s worked on land. 

Cousteau’s Address:

“The 20th of July, 1969, I was on board Calypso in the Aleutian Islands. We were having one of our mini-subs exploring the bottom of a canyon of this island called Viva Inlet, and the sub was about in 800 or 900 feet of depth. Raymond Cole was in it. We had the sonar telephone on the fantail and we were in communication with him and, at the very same time, we had a loudspeaker on the fantail giving us a direct account from the first landing on the moon. All the crew was there. We were all very excited, of course, by this historical landing and we could hear the communications of Armstrong to Houston, Texas, and, at the same time, this was intermingled with reports from Raymond Cole at the bottom of the sea. We were relaying this information to Cole, who was just as excited as we were. We explained to him, ‘Armstrong opens the hatch, he’s climbing down the ladder ... There it is, he’s on the moon.” Then there was a silence. Raymond Cole expressed his admiration. Then another silence. Then he said, ‘Well, I am not going to open my hatch!’ 

“The description from the moon described a hostile, dusty, grayish, impressive but empty desert barren universe. And this was intermingled with the descriptions of Raymond Cole telling us about the hordes of king crabs he was following in their migration some of them at great depth, burrowing into the mud, which was a discovery for those who are interested in king crabs the bottom of the sea being absolutely covered with a thick layer of swimming shrimps, beautiful golgonyans in these cold waters down to 450 feet and the contrast between this tremendously populated world which is the sea and the generally barren universe that not only Armstrong, but also the Surveyor, described on Mars, suddenly enlightened my own conception of the ocean. 

A Dying Ocean

“For the first time, it was obvious that men on this earth are nothing else than 3 billion astronauts on a spaceship, and a spaceship in which the oceans are our water supply. And we are there going into this desert hostile universe only depending from this mass of water which is the oceans, the clouds, the rivers, etc. knowing that only 1% of this total water is in circulation all the rest being the oceans. If this is so, it is obvious also that this water mass, the oceans, where life originated, is also critical for our survival. When we are speaking of protection of the sea, it is a little more than conservation of nature and protecting species that may disappear. It is a question of life and death for mankind, and this thing that I think some of the other speakers have already emphasized, I will emphasize in my own manner in a little while as a diver, as a witness of the dying ocean. 

“When we dive a few years apart in the same places, we notice at once a tremendous change and not a good one. All the changes that we notice are all in the same direction destruction. 


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