How did Cousteau Inspire You?

June 11 is the 101st anniversary of Jacques Cousteau, the Commandant, the man with the red cap who opened our eyes to the ocean like nobody did before. And no one after him has been able to share the passion about the ocean and all the life in it, and making us fall in love with it like he did. Cousteau was the first global environmental celebrity, as known worldwide as all-time soccer stars and movie stars.

Thanks in great part to Jacques Cousteau, I am now a National Geographic explorer. When I was a child growing up in Spain, Cousteau was everything: my hero, role model, and inspiration. I couldn’t wait for Sunday evening to arrive so that I could watch a new episode of “The underwater world of Jacques Cousteau.” I dreamed about being one of the Calypso divers, exploring exotic locations and making new discoveries every day. While my friends had posters of soccer players on their bedroom walls, I had photos of the red-capped divers diving in remote coral reefs, or climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. My friends dreamed about driving powerful cars and motorbikes; I dreamed of having a bunk bed on the Calypso.

That childhood dream fueled my passion for the sea for years to come. I studied biology, got a PhD in marine ecology, and then became a Professor of Oceanography and spend 10 years in academia, before joining the ranks of the National Geographic Society. I never met the Commandant, but now I am living my childhood dream, exploring and studying remote corners of the ocean, and inspiring leaders to save the last wild places of the ocean before they succumb under the global human footprint. Many people helped me along the way, but that Cousteau figure was always there, keeping me in that perpetual state of curiosity that children have and adults tend to lose.

What did Jacques Cousteau mean to you? Please share your thoughts and feelings as a tribute for his 101st anniversary, at the Cousteau Divers website. Sign the Cousteau Divers guestbook and tell us your story. Or post a personal video, like Jim Toomey’s below.

Jim Toomey’s video was a winner of the Ocean Inspiration 100 – Second Tribute to Jacques Cousteau video contest.

Get wallpaper of a vintage 1956 National Geographic photograph of Jacques Cousteau diving in the Indian Ocean.

Changing Planet

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Marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who combines science, exploration and media to help restore marine life. Sala’s scientific publications are used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine protected areas. 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.