In 1964, movie posters for Jacques Cousteau’s bold underwater film, World Without Sun, urged filmgoers to come see "Earth’s first ‘Oceanauts.’"
Now, nearly 40 years later, a new generation of "oceanauts" led by Jean-Michel Cousteau will embark on an extraordinary documentary filmmaking expedition of adventure and discovery to the most remote islands on the planet in "Voyage to Kure."
The six-week adventure, being filmed for public television, marks a renewal of the Cousteau legend as award-winning ocean filmmaker Jean-Michel Cousteau takes his Ocean Futures Society team on a quest to explore wildlife and Polynesian culture along the vast, 1,200-mile chain of ecosystems called the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands that end on the remote island of Kure. The 22-member crew, many of whom grew up watching the famed television specials The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, will also include many veterans of Cousteau documentaries by Jean-Michel and his late father.
"This will be an exciting and innovative expedition in the Cousteau tradition of showing the interconnectedness of all species on and around these remarkable islands, and the Polynesian culture which has been so important to life in the Pacific,” Cousteau said. "It will also document how valiant efforts to save these pristine islands from human destruction have helped restore some of the last wild places on Earth."
Cousteau, the recipient of numerous filmmaking awards including the Emmy, the Peabody and the 7 d’Or, said this latest expedition is among his most exciting.
"We are beginning an adventure reminiscent of my family’s legacy," he said. "We have new, young team members, both men and women, with advanced training and mentored by original Calypso leaders."
During the Kure adventure, people around the world will be able follow the expedition logs, see images from the exploration, send questions and comments to the crew and learn about these exotic ecosystems by viewing a special section of the Ocean Futures Society website at www.oceanfutures.org. Membership in Ocean Futures Society is free to all.
Cousteau and the OFS crew, aboard the vessel Searcher, will use new technology, for both filmmaking and diving, that will advance the standards of documentary excellence. The latest equipment in high-definition video, lighting, navigation, satellite imagery, and even "rebreather" apparatus, which allows divers to stay underwater for longer periods of time will be used in Voyage to Kure.
Voyage to Kure will also be a unique documentary because it will chronicle a parallel expedition by Nainoa Thompson, a native Polynesian, who will sail Hokule`a, a replica of an ancient Polynesian voyaging canoe. Thompson will navigate by "wayfinding," using the ocean currents, the wind, the stars, the sun, cloud formations and birds to guide him. Thompson’s voyage will raise awareness of the declining conditions of the coral reefs in the main Hawaiian Islands. Hokule`a’s mission is to restore an ancient wisdom, the Hawaiian concept of malama – of caring for our land and sea to ensure a balance among all forms of life.
Ed Cassano, vice president of exploration and expeditions for OFS, said the documentary team is largely comprised of "a generation that was inspired by the Cousteau philosophy to explore the unknown ocean and protect this invaluable resource."
"The OFS diving and film crew involves many young people who became ship captains, divers, underwater photographers, marine biologists, and marine sanctuary managers because of the desire to discover what the Cousteaus instilled in us as children,” Cassano said. "This latest generation is now on a new mission with Jean-Michel and these pioneering filmmakers and divers."
Cassano said the Northwestern Haiwaiian Islands are a compelling subject for the documentary for many environmental and cultural reasons. These untouched islands attracted the attention of European adventurers and businessmen after 1895 who saw riches in the guano deposits left by 10 million nesting seabirds. Guano mining operations, which devastated the land, were built on some of the islands to export fertilizer to the sugar plantations in Honolulu. They also collected and exported millions of albatross eggs and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of seabirds for their feathers to adorn fashions of the times.
After the Tanager Expedition in 1923 found Laysan, one of these islands, a barren wasteland, the NWHI was named a wildlife refuge and restoration began. In 2000, a presidential executive order made the NWHI a coral reef reserve, as well. The film team hopes the documentary will lead to even more extensive protection, Cousteau said. The OFS team is coordinating its expedition with The State of Hawai`i, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
The biodiversity of the NWHI and its place as the most remote island group on Earth create an amazing habitat for unusual species. French Frigate Shoals, one of the islands, is the nesting ground for 90 percent of the green sea turtles in the Hawaiian Islands. The NWHI are the home of the monk seal, an endangered species that makes these islands their sole breeding colony. The albatross, sooty terns and more than 18 species of seabirds inhabit the islands by the millions. Under the sea, the NWHI is surrounded by the last wild coral reefs that remain in U.S. waters. Rare corals and vibrant reef marine life abound.
Voyage to Kure, targeted to air on public television nationally in Fall 2004, brings together an even larger team of film professionals who have produced, edited, written, composed and photographed many award-winning films for National Geographic, IMAX, BBC/Discovery Channel, NBC, ABC, NOVA, PBS and many more. Ocean Futures Society is working in cooperation with KQED Public Television in San Francisco on the project.
The mission of Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society is to explore the global ocean, inspiring and educating people throughout the world to act responsibly for its protection, documenting the critical connection between humanity and nature, and celebrating the ocean’s vital importance to the survival of all life on our planet. Ocean Futures Society is based in Santa Barbara, CA., USA with offices in Paris and Washington D.C. For more information about the endeavors of Cousteau and Ocean Futures Society, visit their website at www.oceanfutures.org .