In collaboration with the Cousteau Society and in recognition of the hundredth anniversary of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s birth on June 11, 2010, National Geographic Fellow and marine ecologist Enric Sala has set sail aboard Cousteau’s ship Alcyone with the legendary marine explorer’s youngest son, Pierre-Yves Cousteau. The expedition will reexamine undersea Mediterranean destinations visited and documented by Jacques-Yves Cousteau more than half a century ago.
I’m on the deck of Alcyone, which seems to be floating over a seagrass bed in the crystal clear waters of the Scandola Nature Reserve, a marine reserve in Corsica. I have known the name of Alcyone—one of Jacques Cousteau and the Cousteau Society’s pioneering research vessels—since I was a child. Knowing how much exploration of the seas happened from this very boat, I walk her decks with awe.
Pierre-Yves and I just returned from an extraordinary dive in this protected area. We saw what Jacques Cousteau showed us 60 years ago: large groupers, corvina, lobsters, and large schools of fish.
In addition, we dived in a shallow cave whose ceiling was covered with precious red coral—a glimpse of times past. In Marseille a few days ago, by contrast, we saw nothing like this: the waters were empty of large fish, we did not see any lobster, and most fishes were smaller than my mask.
What we saw in Marseille is typical of the Mediterranean today. We have lost most of the large fish and the red coral because of centuries of exploitation. But Scandola gives us hope. This marine reserve seems to have restored part of that richness that Jacques Cousteau showed us.
Have other reserves in the Mediterranean got so much life? We will know in a few days as the Alcyone travels to the Medes Islands Marine Reserve off the coast of Spain.
Learn more about the expedition and the Cousteau Society, become a Cousteau Diver, or explore the ocean with National Geographic. You can also join the Cousteau Society’s Facebook group and get updates from Cousteau Divers on Facebook and Twitter.
Photos by Enric Sala