Jacques-Yves Cousteau


Portrait of Jacques-Yves CouteauJacques-Yves Cousteau (1910-1997) was a French naval officer, explorer, ecologist, and filmmaker, who studied the sea. Although he is most famous to us from his television programmes, he also co-developed the aqua-lung, and pioneered marine conservation as a political and scientific priority.


In the Calypso, an ex-Royal Navy minesweeper, Cousteau visited the most interesting waters of the planet. During these trips he produced many books and films. He gained three Oscars for; The Silent World, The Golden Fish, and World Without Sun, as well as many other top awards including the Palme d'Or in 1956 at the Cannes Film Festival.


Cousteau liked to call himself an "oceanographic technician". He was in reality a sophisticated lover of nature who found a way of communicating complex scientific and biological concepts to ordinary people. While he was criticised at the time by some academics for failing to express science 'properly', his work permitted many people to explore the resources of the "blue continent". As an example of his influence, in 1975, folk singer John Denver composed the song "Calypso" as a tribute to Cousteau and his research ship Calypso. The song reached the number one position on the Billboard 100 charts.


Cousteau's work did a great deal to popularize knowledge of underwater biology and was featured in the long-lived documentary television series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau which began in 1968. On January 11, 1996, the Calypso sank in Singapore harbour. Cousteau died on June 25, 1997 - his work is continued by his son Jean-Michel and his grandson Fabien, who studies sharks from a custom-built shark-shaped submarine.


Ship CalypsoThrough more than 115 television films and 50 books, Captain Cousteau opened up the oceans to millions of households. Made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour for his service in the Résistance, Captain Cousteau was promoted to the rank of officer then commander in recognition of his contributions to science. A member of the US Academy of Sciences, he was also Director of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco for thirty years. In 1977, the United Nations Environment Programme awarded him the Pahlavi Prize. He received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985. Then, in 1988, he was inscribed in the UN Environmental Programme's Global 500 Roll of Honor of Environmental Protection and received the National Geographic Society's Centennial Award. Showered with awards, he was elected to the Académie française in 1989.


In 1992 he was invited to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the United Nations' international conference on environment and development, and then he became a regular consultant for the UN and the World Bank.


Cousteau played a guiding role in developing the UNESCO-Cousteau Ecotechnie Programme (UCEP), founded in 1994 to train researchers and decision-makers through transdisciplinary curricula combining ecological, economic, social, cultural and technological studies. Twelve UCEP Chairs have been established at universities and research institutions in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America.


Postage stamp from MaltaAlso Jacques Cousteau initiated and led a major campaign in which he collected more than five million signatures from around the world in support of an international declaration on the rights of future generations. He worked closely with UNESCO on the draft Declaration on the Safeguarding of Future Generations, which was submitted for adoption at the Organisation’s General Conference in November 1997. The French oceanographer also collaborated in the work of UNESCO’s youth programmes as well as with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, notably to highlight scientific solutions to ocean problems.





The biography of Cousteau in Wikipedia.

Website of the Cousteau Society.

Interview of Cousteau with UNESCO Courier in November 1991.

Statement of Cousteau at the UN Conference on Population and Development, Cairo, Egypt, September 1994.

The UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize.



Stamp catalogue


Niger                                  2 November 1998





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last revised: 28 February 2010