The Living Sea

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The Living Sea


Book excerpt

By: Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Date: 1963

Source: Cousteau, Jacques Yves. The Living Sea. New York: Harper and Row, 1963.

About the Author: Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910–1997) was one of the most famous ocean explorers of the twentieth century. He authored more than fifty books and encyclopedias about the oceans, produced numerous films and television shows featuring his adventures at sea, and founded a society for the protection of the oceans. He was a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences and was awarded the United Nations International Environmental Prize in 1977.


Jacques Cousteau is arguably the most well-known personality associated with the ocean in the twentieth century. He was born in 1910 in Saint-André-de-Cubzac, France. His father was a lawyer and traveled extensively for work, so the family lived in various places during Cousteau's childhood. For some time, the Cousteau family lived in New York, where Jacques received much of his education. During this time Cousteau had his first underwater experiences, diving in a lake in New Hampshire. Following his secondary education, Cousteau attended the Naval Academy in Brest where he was trained as a gunnery officer.

Cousteau served in the French Navy during World War II, where he gained extensive experience at sea. Also during this time, he met Emile Gagnan, an engineer, with whom he developed the first apparatus that allowed a person to remain underwater for several hours. They called their equipment "Aqua-Lung" and it was the precursor to the Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, or SCUBA. The development of the Aqua-Lung is the topic of Cousteau's first book The Silent World, which was an enormous success. It sold more than 3 million copies in English and was translated into 22 languages. Cousteau produced a film about underwater diving of the same title, which won the grand prize at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award in 1957. The Silent World book and the film made Cousteau a celebrity, launching his career as a spokesperson for the oceans.

Excerpted below is the first chapter of The Living Sea, the second book written by Cousteau. Part of the book's success is Cousteau's great ability to describe the ocean ecosystem using words and phrases that engage the reader and make a world that is generally inaccessible to many, very available. The Living Sea describes the acquisition and construction of Cousteau's research vessel, Calypso, along with several of its early voyages. It also discusses the development of novel equipment used to explore the ocean at greater depth and for longer periods of time. In the excerpt, which describes one of the first underwater dives in the Red Sea, Cousteau refers to marine organisms that are not commonly known. These include madrepores, which are reef-building corals; alcyonarians, which include some corals and sea anemones; ascidians, which are soft-bodied marine organisms that colonize hard surfaces; hydrozoans, which are soft anemone-like animals; and calcareous algae, which is a type of plant that forms a hard encrusting layer. Jacks, bonitos, and silver sardinellas are all types of fish found near coral reefs. Acropora are staghorn coral, and tridacna clams are giant clams with large colored mantles found on coral reefs.


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[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]


The Living Sea represents the beginning of Cousteau's concern for the preservation of the oceans, as well as other ecosystems throughout the world, an idea that would become a theme throughout his life. Through film and writing, Cousteau's work aboard the Calypso enchanted the public and exposed people to the beauty and fragility of many different, and often inaccessible, environments. He was able to demonstrate the threats that pollution and overexploitation posed through his dramatic images and descriptive prose. His writing, in which scientific concepts are explained in a compelling manner similar to storytelling, is a major part of his legacy, as it increased the public's awareness of the great beauty and diversity found in environments throughout the world.

Cousteau's success in film and writing made him a major spokesperson in the environmental movement of the late twentieth century. As such, Cousteau chose several environmental problems on which he focused his attention and the attention of the public. This often resulted in important changes to government policy. In 1960, Cousteau became concerned about the environmental effects of dumping radioactive waste in the Mediterranean Sea by the European Atomic Energy Community. He launched a publicity campaign pressuring governments to stop the practice. Eventually, dumping radioactive waste into the Mediterranean was banned.

In 1975, Cousteau took the Calypso on an expedition to Antarctica. He was one of the first people to ever dive below the ice that surrounds the continent. His work brought the sculptured beauty of the frozen continent into the consciousness of the world. Following this expedition, Cousteau used his platform as a filmmaker to encourage the signing of the Antarctic Treaty. The treaty establishes the entire continent of Antarctica as a natural preserve, free from exploitation for natural resources and waste disposal. It also ensures that Antarctica is used only for peaceful purposes. In a similar manner, Cousteau used his celebrity to pressure governments to protect both the Alaska wilderness and the Amazon River.

Much of Cousteau's environmental work centered around the non-profit organization, The Cousteau Society, that he established in 1974. The mission of the Society is to teach the public about threats to the environment that are caused by human activities. The membership of The Cousteau Society includes more than 300,000 members.

Cousteau received numerous environmental prizes for his work encouraging the discussion of environmental protection and increasing the awareness of human responsibility for other species on the planet. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States and the Académie Française. Cousteau received the United Nations Environmental Prize in 1977. President Ronald Regan presented him with the National Medal of Freedom in 1995. He was an invited guest at the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.



Cousteau, Jacques. Jacques Cousteau: The Ocean World. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1985.

――――――. The Silent World. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2004.

Web sites

The Cousteau Society. 〈〉 (accessed March 7, 2006).

"The Story of NLM Historical Collections." National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. 〈〉 (accessed March 7, 2006).

Audio and Visual Media

Turner Home Entertainment. Lilliput in Antarctica. Cousteau Society, 1990.

Warner Home Video. The Jacques Cousteau Odyssey—The Complete Series. All 12 episodes from the 1978 season. 2005.

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The Living Sea

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