Jacques Cousteau, the French marine explorer, is a pillar of the discovery of famous dive sites. Plus, a pioneer in the diving industry. He’s widely known as the father of scuba diving and marine conservation, having actually crafted some of the first available scuba gear. The monarch of the diving industry is often pictured with an iconic red beanie hat and is known for his exploration ship, Calypso. Below, we’ve rounded up top dive spots to discover Cousteau’s favorite dive!
Cousteau’s sailed the world for much of the 20th century. As a result of his experiences, he is regarded as an inventor, filmmaker and conservationist advocating for ocean exploration. All while educating millions of people about the Earth’s oceans and conservation through his TV series and books. Cousteau’s favourite dive destinations are highly regarded today. His expert recommendations have been passed down through generations of the dive community.
Cousteau’s Life Over the Years
In 1943 Cousteau co-invented the Aqua-Lung, a breathing device for scuba-diving. This developed into what we now know as a regulator. In 1951, he began going on yearly trips to explore the ocean on theCalypso. In 1968, he produced the television seriesThe Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, which ran for nine seasons. Millions of people followed Cousteau and his crew as they produced intimate exposés of marine life and habitats across the globe. It was during this time that Cousteau began to realize how human activity was destroying the oceans. Cousteau also wrote several books, includingThe Sharkin 1970 and Dolphinsin 1975. Lastly,Jacques Cousteau: The Ocean Worldin 1985. With his increased celebrity and the support of many, Cousteau founded the Cousteau Society in 1973. The purpose of this society was to raise awareness of the ecosystems of the underwater world.
Jacques Cousteau could be classes as one of the ‘original influencers’. Before the time of travel and dive influencers appeared on our Instagram feeds, Jacques Cousteau inspired the world through his famous ocean exploration documentaries. Recommendations from Cousteau are well-loved, even decades later. Sites that he discovered and praised over 50 years ago are steadfast diving meccas today. Let’s travel through Cousteau’s favourite dive destinations around the globe.
Sipadan, a Malaysian island just off Borneo’s Easter coast, became famous following Cousteau’s early ‘80s film “Ghost of the Sea Turtles.” Cousteau commented on the area, “I have seen other places like Sipadan 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art.”
This location boasts more than 3,000 marine species and corals, plus a large number of turtle sightings. The nutrient-rich currents entering this area attract small and large fish, sharks, and turtles. You can also expect to run into hammerheads or thresher sharks occasionally in this area.
Important diving information
Sipadan has been protected since 2002, so there are no resorts on the island and divers can only visit by day boat. The regulations only allow 120 divers on Sipadan each day between 8:00am and 3:00pm. Most dives here are drift, with very strong currents in a few places. An Advanced Open Water certification or a minimum of 20 logged dives is required. It’s important to note that only 176 permits are issued a day, so dive access is not guaranteed. It is recommended divers secure a permit before arrival to ensure a smooth trip. Booking far in advance, a longer stay, and going off-season up your chance of securing access.
Best time to go:The weather and diving in Sipadan are great year-round. Currents are strongest between January and March, while turtle nesting and the highest visibility are found here from May to August.
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The Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Cousteau considered the Sea of Cortez, now known as the Gulf of California, “the world’s aquarium.”
At 25 million years old, this deep gulf brims with critters and is thought to be one of the most diverse seas on the planet. Among its residents: the world’s widest variety of dolphins and whales, rays, turtles, hammerheads. As well as over 900 species of fish.The Sea of Cortez is a must if you love sea lions! There’s eve a native colony that will nibble on your fins if you get close enough.
Important diving information: Given this is such a large area, there are dives to cater to every experience level. Beginners can check out Cabo Pulmo, La Paz, and Los Cabos. For explorers with a few more dives under their weight belt, the Midriff Islands, El Bajo or Gordo Banks are worth a visit. Head to Isla San Pedro for hammerheads and Los Islotes to swim with sea lions. Divers may encounter whale sharks in the fall, and winter brings the opportunity to swim with humpbacks, sperm whales, rays and mobulas.
When to go:This site is a balancing act. Water is warmest from August to November, so it is a popular time for liveaboards and hammerhead shark sightings. The water cools down from December to March, making it prime time for spying animals like octopuses, whales, and sea lions.
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SS Thistlegorm, Red Sea, Egypt
This World War II gravesite was forgotten until Cousteau featured the site in his hit series The Living Sea, The Silent World in the 1950s.
In 1942, the SS Thistlegorm was hit and sunke by German air bombers off the coast of Egypt. Most of the cargo survived, making the site a cornucopia of WWII artefacts. Think preserved motorcycles, guns, trucks, aeroplane parts and more. Over the decades, a bustling artificial reef developed on the wreck making it home to a diverse array of marine life.
Egypt’s reefs are famously full of bright corals, schools of fish, and wonderfully calm and clear conditions year round. Due to the excellent visibility and the easy access to excess depths, it’s an attractive location for technical diving and training.
When to go:If Hammerhead sharks are on your bucket list then head to Egypt between June-September. This is also when the water temperature is at its warmest. The best time to spot a Whale Shark is between May-August although they have been known to be spotted at any time of year.
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Vancouver Island, Canada
Vancouver Island, on Canada’s west coast, holds over 17,000 miles of coastline. Cousteau said of the area that it’s “the best temperate-water diving in the world and second only to the Red Sea.”
Today, diving in Vancouver Island still ranks among the best in North America, many calling it Cousteau’s favorite dive. Marine life includes prehistoric-looking wolf eels, bluntnose sixgill sharks, seals, sea lions, giant Pacific octopus and well-loved sea otters.
The current-fed waters in this area are rich in plankton and marine life, including giant Pacific octopuses, sea stars, anemones, rockfish and sponges. This island is an underwater photographer’s dream site, with its vivid colours.
Important diving information: With more than 2000 miles of shoreline, the island offers scores of diving options. If you love wrecks, check out the nonprofitArtificial Reef Society of British Columbia, which has sunk diver-safe ex-warships and one Boeing 737. Browning Pass Wall is covered in corals and anemones. Remember that Canadian waters are cold, so divers need a drysuit certification. A dive light is also recommended to retain the site’s stunning colours as you descend.
When to go:The waters of Vancouver Island are easiest to access in the summer months, when the weather is warmer and the skies clear.
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In the early 1960s, Cousteau stated, “Cozumel is one of the best places around the world for diving, thanks to its fantastic visibility and its wonderful marine life.”
As a Mecca for dive vacations, you’ve likely heard of Cozumel. This island is famous for its relaxing drift dives through incredible coral reef ecosystems. Over 25 kinds of coral and over 500 species of fish reside here, including several endemic species like the toadfish. All combined, it’s not hard to see why many call it Cousteau’s favorite dive.
There are two main protected reef systems, known as Colombia and Palancar. Nearly all of the dive sites here are located on the Western side, although there are some sites on the windward side that require favourable weather conditions and advanced certification. Dives here usually include sightings of many fish, lobsters, turtles and rays.
Important diving information: Cozumel is an island off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, so you need to take a ferry from Playa del Carmen on the mainland to get there. Divers can stay on Cozumel itself, or make it a day trip. The marine park around Cozumel houses a large number of dive sites, making this site accessible for divers of any level, but a drift diving certification may be useful. Become a PADI Drift Diver and explore Cousteau’s favorite dive site here!
When to go:Cozumel has great diving conditions all year. December to April is generally the most popular time to visit Mexico given its warm winter weather. From May through November, however, the waters are even warmer, the crowds smaller and the prices lower—but note that hurricane season runs from June through November, and historically the chance of a hurricane is strongest from August through October.
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Richelieu Rock, Andaman Sea, Thailand
It’s unclear exactly where the name “Richelieu Rock” came from. One version of the story says Cousteau named the red-to-purple coral-laden rock after the famous red robes and hats of 17th-century Cardinal Richelieu. While others say it was named after Andreas du Plessis de Richelieu, the only non-Thai commander in chief of the Royal Thai Navy.
Either way, the site is nothing short of all the requirements to be classed as Cousteau’s favorite dive!
This horseshoe-shaped reef is located in what’s now known as the Mu Koh Surin National Park in the Andaman Sea off Thailand. Although it is closer to Burma. A highlight of the site is a towering limestone pinnacle rising up from around 164 feet (50 m) deep to just below the water’s surface, which brims with marine life.
This rock crop is an underwater photographer’s dream. Nudibranchs, seahorses, shrimp and moray eels all flock to the coral-coated rock. Pelagic animals are also common in the area since the arched formation is a considerable distance from the shore. It is also considered one of the best places in Thailand to encounter manta rays and whale sharks!
Important diving information: Richelieu Rock is part of the Mu Koh Surin marine park, which is open every year from October 15 to May 15, and closed the rest of the year for the wet season. There is a nominal fee to enter the park, which is usually wrapped in the price of an organized dive trip. Day trips to the rock are available, but most divers opt for liveaboards that include a stop at Richelieu. The formation goes as deep as 115 feet, so an advanced diving certification will give you more access to the site.
When to go:The park is open 24/7 from mid-October to mid-May, when the weather in Thailand is generally hot and dry. The peak whale shark spotting season in the area is from February to April.
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Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand
A group of islands lie 15 miles off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island. At first, it might not seem like a great diving location, but the lush visibility and abundant marine life were enough to rate these islands in the top 10 of Cousteau’s favourite dive destinations, and possibly even as Cousteau’s favorite dive.
Firstly, The Poor Knights are the remains of volcanoes that formed part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Now, it creates a marine reserve with over 50 recognized dive sites, including the world’s largest sea cave! The underwater diversity includes everything from kelp forests to sea walls, sandy areas, coral and caverns. Divers can also explore two purpose-sunk wrecks onsite. The mundrrwater life here is teeming with larger marine mammal sightings, such as dolphins and several whale species.
Off the tip of New Zealand’s North Island, the cliffs create a subtropical water paradise for dolphones, orcas and rays. As well as huge groups of bull rays and stingrays often sighted at several of the island’s dive sites.
From the moment you arrive, it’s clear you don’t dive around Poor Knights, you dive in them. That’s to say there’s no shortage of grottoes, chimneys, tunnels and archways to venture into. Healthy fish populations create galvanic displays below the waves. Swim through huge clouds of pink and blue mao mao hiding in volcanic arches or drift over kelp forests with snapper and trevallies.
When to go: Winter (May-October) has better visibility (over 30m on good days) while the remaining summer months (November-April) have more plankton and marine life.
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Sha’b Rumi, Sudan
Red Sea diving is not just restricted to Egypt! If you venture further into the South, you’ll find incredible diving off the coast of Sudan. One of the most prized sites being Sha’b Rumi, a reef about 30 miles from Port Sudan. It’s one that many class as Cousteau’s favorite dive. In the middle of the reef is a lagoon that can be entered via a narrow route that Cousteau blasted himself.
Interestingly, this site is home to a number of experiments to do with underwater living. In 1963, Cousteau began the secondof his Conshelf experimentswith the building of Precontinent II. This was an underwater living structure in which his team lived for a month! Although the structures were removed, divers are able to spot the remaining hanger.
Sudan lies in an equatorial region where the temperatures remain tropical throughout the year. You can expect to see glowing coral gardens and a variety of shark species. Plus, barracuda, manta rays, dolphins humpback whales, pilot whales and turtles. If the current permits divers may be rewarded with schools of scalloped hammerheads and the odd grey reef shark!
When to go: The best time for diving in Sudan isbetween February and June, as this is when marine life is most rich. The fall months (September-November) are also great for diving, especially October when it is manta season in Sudan near the Mesharifa reef.
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Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Cocos Island is a national-park island, meaning its highly preserved! It 36 hours by boat from the West coast of Costa Rica to reach. This may seem like a lengthy journey, but it’s more than worth it! The only inhabitants of the island are park rangers! Because of its remoteness, the only way to explore it is via liveaboard.
The island, formed from volcanic activity, is the first point of contact for the northern equatorial counter-current which brings in nutrient-rich waters. The result of this is an influx of famously large pelagic species like whale sharks and schools of scalloped hammerheads. Dive sites vary from shallow reefs to the deep blue depths, as well as deep volcanic pinnacles. You may also encounter blacktip, whitetip, silvertip, tiger sharks, as well as many species of rays.
Important diving information: Due to the nature of the environment, Cocos is best suited to only the most experienced divers. Very strong currents are common. Even though the water can be between 75 and 86F (24 to 30C), thermoclines can suddenly drop the temperature to as low as 43F (6C).
When to go: The best time to visit Cocos Islands is fromSeptember and October to avoid rainy season. However, some showers could still occur here year-round.
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The Great Blue Hole, Belize (Yucatan Peninsula)
The TV series, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau declared this site one of Cousteau’s favorite dive destinations after he first dived the site in 1971.
The Great Blue Hole in Belize is one of the most famous worldwide. Even more spectacular from the air, the perfectly round limestone sinkhole is 984 feet (300 m) across and 407 feet (124 m) deep. Although the high visibility of 100 feet (30 m) is great, there’s not much marine life here except for the occasional Caribbean reef shark. Divers here rave of the vast underwater rock formations as opposed to animal encounters or decadent reefs. Though divers may spot the occasional shark hanging out in the hole, the focus is the topography.
Important diving information: It takes two hours to reach Lighthouse Reef, home of the Great Blue Hole, from Belize City. Divers require an advanced diving certification to reach the stalactites and stalagmites, which start at a depth of 130 feet (42 meters).
When to go:Belize offers great dive conditions year-round, though March to December is when conditions are ideal for marine life. Bear in mind the rainy season in Belize is from April to October.
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