Jean Michel Cousteau’s love for the warm tropical ocean waters had its beginnings in a humble little group of Micronesian islands in the Manus called Wuvulu. Jean Michel is the “77-year-young” son of the famous ocean pioneer, the late Jacques Cousteau. It was in 1973 that the young Cousteau first came to dive in the caves off the coast of Wuvulu. He was mesmerized by the unusual blind fish and Orca whales in the caves, and has been enchanted by Papua New Guinea ever since.

When we in June last year in Port Moresby his eyes lit up when my girlfriend Eva Arni introduced herself and said she was from Wuvulu. His spontaneous open arms and tight embrace was enough to make you think that they were long lost friends. But that is the charm of Jean-Michel.

The formal interview I had planned turned into a lovely afternoon chat with someone who obviously not only has a passion for what he does but also has a genuine bond with the people who habitat he has ventured into and has explored.


The gush of warmth and enthusiastic energy was evident as he spoke; "I have a soft spot for Wuvulu." In a way he was trying to explain his all-embracing nature but at the same time, find a connection with Eva and I. Here I was in the presence of such a famous adventurer, ocean hero and philanthropist and he was speaking of the little known islands with such fondness! This was certainly a pleasant surprise and an inspiration for me.

As the conversation progressed I discovered he had even bought a small island in Wuvulu for a mere $20.00 in 1973 and it was still there with one coconut palm standing. During the conversation, Eva would recall the names of people from her childhood days who had worked with Jean-Michel on the islands, all those years ago. He remembered all the people and it was easy to see what a great mind he has.

Monsieur Cousteau is an architect by profession but has now become what you could call a roving ambassador for the vast ocean and its creatures. He travels the world raising awareness on the importance of protecting the marine environment. On his recent trip to Papua New Guinea he was amazed at how beautiful PNG still is with its "extremely varied diversity of life" still intact.

"I could spend a lifetime here trying to understand the cultures and their connections to the environment," he said. "The environment is our life support system; whether we like it or not. Even our happiness depends on it!"

Our meeting was after his two-week diving visit to Kimbe in West New Britain. The trip to Kimbe was especially dedicated to finding Orca whales (sometimes known as killer whales). With a group that included Orca biologists, scientists, researchers and film makers Monsieur Cousteau lived on Febrina live-aboard boat.

In his diary of Kimbe he wrote: "The coral reefs remain healthy as I remember when I first visited PNG in 1973. There are not many places in the tropics that one can still say that today."

Another entry read; "Today June 17th, has been our best day yet even though we have not seen any Orca yet but we have had sightings of 4 different whale and dolphin species including Spinner Dolphins, Risso's dolphins, False Killer Whales and Bottlenose Dolphins.

"We also did three dives on two different dive sites. As you all know, PNG is known for its high biodiversity of the coral reef. I have seen many new species of fish and invertebrates on every dive, making each dive really enjoyable.

"We are leaving PNG empty handed of Orca footage, but have captured their close cousins on film We also filmed the underwater world of the tropical Orcas."

At the end of week 2, Monsieur Cousteau wrote; "No Orcas...but we have given it an honest try. We covered just about the entire area of Kimbe Bay in the Bismark Sea, over 2700 sq miles in search of Orca. We did enjoy the rich biodiversity of cetaceans that Kimbe Bay is well known for with its sightings of 5 different species of whales and dolphins."

"In our hours and hours of search for Orca, we did our fair share of diving; logging more dives in two weeks than we did in the entire 8 months in Amazon and three months on expedition in the Arctic. We logged 35 dives at 16 different dive sites, totalling more that 40 hours underwater. We all have our most memorable moments."


This entry sums up the enormous potential PNG has to be the leading tourist destination in the Pacific: "PNG reefs are among the richest and most productive of any reefs in the world. Abundance and productivity is dramatically demonstrated by the large schools of jacks, barracuda, rainbow runners and unicorn fish that we have witnessed on just about every dive. Diversity and richness is demonstrated by the variety of crinoids, soft coral, sea fans and reef building hard corals, carpeting the bottom with almost 100% coral cover. There are many different architectural strategies that enable these living buildings to have rooftop gardens and  they make shelter and food for the entire community."

The Cousteau group spent long days in Kimbe; starting at 5.30am and going to bed by 10pm.

What is it about Orcas or whales that have intrigued Monsieur Cousteau sunce Wuvulu islands 35 years ago? It's simple he explained. They are mammals; very similar to humans and very organised.

"They are not unlike us. They are very wistful and we are very wistful," he said.

The difference, he said, was that humans were using whales' home as a "big garbage can"; hence he has taken the plight of the whales and other ocean creatures to heart - to influence government decisions and leaders so that the marine environment is protected for future generations to enjoy.

"I want the young ones to enjoy the same chance I had 35 years ago when I first came to PNG and saw what I saw, and experienced what I have."

He was very impressed with the work of the Mahonia na dari ("guardians of the sea") Research Centre at Walindi, Kimbe which was involving young people in outreach programs to carry out communications and awareness campaigns to promote environment protection.

What he would like to see also is the deterrence of dynamite and cynide on reefs, and better fishing practices, especially for commercial purposes to be adopted.

His mission to protect the environment for future generations is explained perfectly when he says:

"It has been a spiritual experience for me, personal and emotional. It's not only about saving whales but saving ourselves; knowing and being aware of our life-support systems. Everything on this planet is connected. We have an opportunity as the dominant species to do something about it."



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