When I was growing up, the underwater world
belonged to Captain Jacques Cousteau.
His television documentaries—there were
115 of them—focused worldwide attention
on oceans, rivers and the risks posed by pollution
and neglect. He brought the ocean into the living
room. He ignited the imagination. He played to
the human sense of discovery.
I can still hear his
voice in those programs. He’d narrate each week’s
mission and discoveries with French-accented
words of calm knowledge and subtle urgency.
He convinced us that
we needed to learn more about the importance
of the marine environment while he entertained
us with what’s beneath
the waves, the odd and beautiful creatures dwelling
At one point I was given
a hardcover book that is heavily weighted with
photographs and stories from Cousteau’s
voyages on his oceanographic ship Calypso,
a converted minesweeper. On one of those pages
I found a stunning summer sunset photo of orca
whales. What really knocked me out was that
the picture was taken in Juan de Fuca Strait.
I have kept that page
bookmarked in my memory. It’s not only that the whales look so great
but also because it made me realize that the
wonder of Cousteau’s world was so close
to home. What was global became local.
When Cousteau died in
1997, the World Wide Web was just beginning
to live up to its name. It’s
not hard to believe that the man who came up
with the scuba breathing device for divers would
have recognized the Web’s potential for
It’s also not hard to believe that he
would be excited about the NEPTUNE underwater
observatory. He would share the project’s
drive to discover, to reach down fathoms and
fathoms, using modern technology to seek knowledge
of the unknown.
Above all, he would have
been enthused about NEPTUNE’s potential
to bring the ocean environment to, not only
scientists, but also the public via the Internet.
The ocean seemed like
in those earlier days. But he was showing us
our world. And our world, as NEPTUNE comes online
in a few short years, is about to reveal itself
in fascinating new ways.