Two fathoms below me Jean-Michel Cousteau hovers above the sea floor pointing out a diaphanous creature with long spidery tendrils. He peers up to make sure I’ve seen. Inside his mask his eyes are wide and I can tell he’s saying “fantastic!”
As I hover weightless in Fiji’s Savusavu Bay I have a flight of fantasy, imagining Cousteau as part human, part amphibian. His flowing mane of silver-grey hair moves in the current like fronds of kelp and although he’s wearing dive gear I rather suspect he’s grown gills by now, making his air tank redundant. If ever I saw a man in his element, then this it.
I can’t believe my luck. I’m diving with a Cousteau, a name synonymous with ocean exploration. Jean-Michel’s famous father, Jacques, practically invented scuba diving or, to be precise, he helped invent the breathing regulator that makes it possible for me to be a fish for a while.
Now in his 70s, Jean-Michel lives in California and travels the world. Vanua Levu is one place he treasures and the eponymous luxury dive resort on Savusavu Bay is one of the world’s best. At the resort bar I’m poured a tequila margarita so generous in volume that I need a snorkel to plunge its depths. Cousteau’s resort involvement is the dive operation. “I’m no hotelier and I don’t want to be one,” he says adamantly.
While with Jean-Michel I learn that you can take a Cousteau from the sea but you can’t squeeze the ocean out of the man. Whether submerged or on dry land he breathes passion and concern for our fragile world. His message is simple: the planet as a single entity.
“Anything that affects the world’s water systems concerns me.” he says. “I would even include ski resorts for, ultimately, that snow melts and lands up in the ocean. Snow on the mountains comes from the ocean. It’s all connected, one water system.
“In another life I’d like to be in space, monitoring and managing the Earth’s oceans from up there,” he muses as we sit under a night sky filled with stars. “Whales don’t have passports. Unless you understand that you simply don’t get the big picture.”
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