Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, is known for his study of sharks and from 2000-2002, he was an Explorer-at-Large for National Geographic and collaborated on a TV special aimed at changing public conceptions about sharks called, Attack of the Mystery Shark.
Then in 2003-2006, he produced the documentary, Mind of a Demon, that aired on CBS. With the help of a large crew, Fabien created a 14-foot, 1,200-pound, lifelike shark submarine called “Troy” that enabled him to immerse 6 himself inside the shark world, providing viewers with a rare view of the mysterious and often misunderstood creatures.
Located 46 miles off the coast of Belize, the Blue Hole is known around the world for its crystal-clear water and its abundance of sharks and sea life.
But this remote spot has only ever been fully explored once – back in 1971 by legendary ocean expert Jacques Cousteau himself. But what mysteries lie at the greatest depth of this ancient sink-hole that is millions of years old?
Discovery announced today it will take viewers to the bottom of the Blue Hole and document its findings in an all-new, 2-hour special called DISCOVERY LIVE: INTO THE BLUE HOLE premiering Sunday, December 2 at 11PM on Discovery Channel (DStv 121).
We spoke to explorer Fabien Cousteau, grandson of Jacques Cousteau;
1. Can you give us any predictions for what you expect to find at the bottom of the Great Blue Hole?
I’ll quote my grandfather: “If I knew what we were going to find I would go there…” The essence of exploration is the unknown and going to see what’s out there. What drives me is my curiosity to find out. Based on findings around Central America and the Meso-American reef there very well could be evidence in the Blue Hole pointing to Mayan culture, new species of sea life, and climate change evidence.
2. What do you expect the biggest challenges to be?
Expeditions are full of surprises and difficulties. Anything from technical problems to weather-related issues can throw off a perfectly orchestrated plan. Just deploying the submersibles can easily be interrupted by high winds which would make it too dangerous to launch them.
3. As the expedition will be filmed live, what’s the protocol should any unplanned events occur?
Live broadcast is a very tricky media. So much technology goes on behind the scenes that require experts to even make it feasible. Add diving into an extreme environment (salt water) and that just further adds to the challenges. The plan is to expect the unexpected…
Along those same lines, when we find something unusual while diving the Blue Hole we can cut from topside hosting to the live shots to our Aquatica submersible.
4. What has it been like working alongside Richard Branson and Erica Bergman in preparation for this?
Sir Branson will be arriving the day before the live event. He and his team have been very supportive of these efforts and I very much look forward to diving with him. As chief pilot of Aquatica Subs, Erica has been instrumental in preparing the Stingray for the live dive into the Blue Hole.
5. How have your Grandfather’s explorations helped you in preparing for this expedition and what would he think of it?
In 1970, my grandfather and his team on Calypso paved the way to understanding how special the Blue Hole is. This fundamental base of knowledge gives us a better understanding of what we need to prepare for and what science we can build on.
6. The original expedition recovered a huge stalactite which revealed how sinkholes are formed. What do you plan on bringing back this time and what could they reveal about the history and the future of that part of the ocean?
By bringing in modern technology, we plan on bringing back a much better understanding of what the Blue Hole is and some answers to the secrets it hides to this day. we will be collecting a significant amount of data and imagery.
7. How can this expedition into the Great Blue help raise awareness about environmental issues?
The Great Blue Hole, just like the rest of the ocean, can tell us a great deal about our impact on it. The geologic formations inside the Blue Hole will give us a good roadmap of climactic changes in history. I suspect we might also see signs of human impact at the bottom. Either way, sharing the beauty and fragility of our ocean world is paramount to impassioning the public.
8. What kind of new technology will you use to capture footage that surpasses that from the first expedition?
Live broadcast, ROV cave footage, 4k & 8k video, acoustic 3D mapping are just some of the ways we will be able to bring back images well beyond the filming technology from 1970.
9. You spent your early years aboard your grandfather’s ships the Calypso and Alcyone. How would you describe this experience and what was it like to be a part of his team?
Looking back, it was an amazing blessing to have grown up on those iconic research vessels surrounded by pioneers. It was the best school that allowed me to appreciate the roles needed to make an expedition possible. Painting the rails, scraping the hull, and spending the night on the graveyard shift at the helm may not sound glorious, but those jobs were invaluable experiences growing up that made me who I am.
10. Why do you think there hasn’t been more exploration of the Great Blue in the past five decades?
If it were easy everyone would do it… It took my grandfather’s team over a month just to map a viable passage to bring Calypso to the Blue Hole. It is a very difficult and time-onsuming endeavour as well as requiring rare and expensive equipment.
11. Do you think scientists, governments and organizations worldwide should dedicate more resources to marine exploration?
We’ve explored less than 5% of our ocean world to date. As much as I love space exploration, I do believe it is paramount that we first understand much more about our life support system because our viability as a species depends on making better decisions.
12. You honoured the 50th anniversary of your grandfather’s original underwater experiment by living at an almost 20-meter depth for 31 days. What did it mean to you personally to achieve this?
Mission 31 was an epic opportunity to honour my grandparents and the Calypso team, as well as to capture the public’s attention to the excitement of ocean science and exploration.
It was a difficult and worthwhile project that allowed our team to collect over 3 years’ worth of scientific research in 31 days and generated over 3 billion unique media impressions. A win for ocean awareness.
13. Do you have future plans to explore other blue holes, such as the Dean's Blue Hole in the Bahamas or the Dragon Hole in the South China Sea?
The possibility is always there to explore other blue holes since they are so unique and can uncover exciting discoveries.
14. The underwater caves in Kazakhstan were discovered by an amateur scuba diver. Do you believe that diving into such caves can be really dangerous for amateurs?
Cave diving is without a doubt extremely dangerous. Many cave divers have lost their lives exploring them. Without extensive, proper training, cave diving invites tragedy.
15. What is the most amazingly ridiculous myth about the ocean or Blue Holes you can recall?
The most prolific circle around sea monsters and aliens. Legends and myths are fascinating and tell us a lot about the human mind. That said, many fantastical stories are based on some grain of fact: dragon story based on dinosaur fossils, a unicorn story based on a narwhal tusk, or the kraken based on a squid carcass… The Blue Hole is no exception: a giant sea serpent god lives there, it’s a doorway to the underworld, it’s an alien hideout… These
are just some of the legends surrounding the Belize Blue Hole. Either science, or science fiction, we aim to find out exactly what’s in there once and for all.