Even though the French Navy was initially the greatest dream of young Jacques Cousteau, accomplishments beyond his comprehension awaited him later in life, after a car accident crippled him and put an end to his military career. The intelligent young man went on to become a legendary explorer, inventor and oceanographer who pioneered modern underwater photography and breathing devices, became one of the first conservationists, and created several award-winning documentaries about life beneath the sea.
Cousteau’s accomplishments that have led to an easier, longer and more convenient diving experience for professional divers included the development of the aqualung, depth-pressure-proof underwater cameras, the first mini-submersible to reach depths of more than 400 meters and much more. According to his first book, The Silent World, Cousteau claims to have developed and used the first prototype for the aqualung when he improved a Le Prieur apparatus to extend the amount of time he could use it underwater. The successful experiment eventually led to the mass production of aqualung devices that are still the basis of modern diving today.
Cousteau was the first to predict the use of echolocation by porpoises and cetaceans in the early 1950s. In 1957 he took over the Oceanographer Museum in Monaco, after having successfully reached a depth of 350 meters with his revolutionary “diving saucer” submersible (in 1965 he extended that record to 500 meters). Cousteau also contributed to the creation of Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques, serving as its president for two years. Probably his greatest accomplishment as a conservationist was the creation of the Cousteau Society for the Protection of Ocean Life in 1973. The Oceanographer also received several symbolic awards for his distinguished career, such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan.
One of the first and most notable – from a historical point of view – Jacques Cousteau accomplishments was the ex-aequo prize of the Congress of Documentary Film awarded for the first ever French underwater film: 18 Meters Deep. This achievement inspired Cousteau and helped him establish his drive toward documenting the underwater world and making some of the finest movies in history, including the Carnets diving film (1951), The Silent World (1956) – winning the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival – and the popular “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” a successful series that aired for more than a decade. For Jacques Cousteau, accomplishments such as these meant far less than the legacy and body of knowledge he left behind after his death in 1997; however, they remain testaments to the dedication and talent of a recognized and distinguished scientist.