While many of us remember Jacques Cousteau as the never-ending fuel for childhood adventure fantasies, the legendary explorer and conservationist did so much more than explore the corners of the ocean. And his impact is still felt to this very day.
The French explorer, who sadly passed away in June of 1997, dedicated his long life to the awareness, protection, and study of the ocean. At the height of his career, he was seen as the environmental figure, even being dubbed with the nickname "Captain Planet" at the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit that was held in Brazil. According to National Geographic, world leaders and influential figures ranging from George Bush to the Dalai Lama all clambered to get a photograph with the activist, who spent the summit imploring leaders to fight for a clean planet.
And while politicians may have cozied up to him for the photograph, Jacques wasn't always in the good books of big political figures - especially in his home country of France. Back in 1959, the environmental activist ran a huge public campaign against the French government after plans of a nuclear dump in the ocean caused Cousteau to take a stand. "We want the right of all people to decide on what risks they will or will not take, to protect the quality of life for future generations," the activist later wrote. He also was one of the biggest figures to empower younger generations, by advocating for the responsibilities of "future generations" to act as custodians of the environment.
But his impacts weren't just at a political level. Cousteau is also credited with pioneering scuba diving, which has enabled scientists all around the world to further their studies of endangered ecosystems and species. With an estimated 80% of the ocean yet to be explored, Jacques's efforts in modernizing and improving overall safety while underwater allowed for us to chip away a little bit more at the enormous mystery of the great blue sea.
Want to learn more about this incredible figure? You can learn his whole life's story in National Geographic's new documentary, Becoming Cousteau.