We miss you, Jacques-Yves Cousteau

We miss you, Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Or rather, we miss someone of a similar calibre who inspired an entire generation to dream of diving, a figure whose documentaries would clear the streets, captivating viewers in front of their tellies around the world.

Those of us who were children back when the moon landings were the pinnacle of wonder, fellow old-timers, will know precisely what I mean. (Crikey, that does rather date me, doesn’t it?)

Once upon a time, being a scuba diver was as cool as being an astronaut—and an equally far-off dream for most. It was an entirely different era, where scuba divers were akin to a select cadre of the “right stuff,” not unlike the special forces. To the average person, diving was an elusive spectacle, something to marvel at from afar, as we watched the pioneers explore the deep blue on our television screens.

Now, fast-forward several decades, and you will find that even middle-aged Aunt Agatha has been certified on a package holiday to Thailand. But is this democratisation of the ocean’s depths a positive or negative development?

I would argue it is a boon. Making the marine world accessible, allowing people to experience and understand our shared underwater heritage, is instrumental in the preservation of our aquatic environments and ecosystems upon which we all, ultimately, rely.

On the other hand, it is disheartening to see diving lose its lustre, relegated to just another activity ticked off a holiday bucket list or an entertaining diversion at a seaside resort.

Diving has seemingly shifted from being a part of one’s identity to merely an activity one participates in. It is this loss—the erosion of diving as an integral part of one’s being—that I mourn deeply.

Fashions and trends in how we spend our leisure time are ever-changing, but diving is more than just a pastime. It connects us to a primal affinity with water and the sea. Who among us has not delighted in water as a child, or cherished days spent at the beach? Who has not been curious about what mysterious life forms dwell beneath the waves, or what secrets or treasures lie sunken and waiting to be discovered? The desire to explore is innate—if only we have the means, which divers do.

And yet, the diving community is ageing and the dive industry in many places is struggling or shrinking. It is a worrying trend.

The apparent indifference of younger generations to the splendour of our planet’s aquatic realms baffles me. We may not be able to travel to other planets, but we can immerse ourselves in an alien world right here on Earth, and we can all be explorers just by donning dive equipment.

Rekindling the allure and prestige of diving is a challenge without an obvious solution. But I believe that a figure with the influence and passion of Jacques-Yves Cousteau could, once again, ignite the collective imagination.