Jacques Yves Cousteau And The Unique Natural Park

excerpt Commander Jacques Cousteau first met Romania at the beginning of his career and came back after 1990 in order to evaluate the quality of the environment, study the pollution and its consequences on the environment, and formulate opinions on how to protect the life quality of future generations.He knew it was a difficult task, but dreamt about coming back to this place on the planet that he held so dearly. He wanted to be able to share with us, and especially with his Romanian friends, his preoccupations and hopes. His friend Bacescu was there with him in order to help him in his research and I think that for him, it was an enormous joy.But besides these contacts and official ceremonies those years also recorded the presence of the Cousteau team on the Danube and in its Delta which was approved as a Biosphere Reserve largely because of his support. Exploring the planet's great rivers, in parallel with the research of the aquatic space, was an idea of Philippe Cousteau's, who logically thought that the seas' health depended on the rivers' health. After a few years of interruptions, the explorations were initiated again between 1990 and 1992, with the research of the Danube, from the sources to the Delta. The river, 2850 km long, has a hydro-graphical basin of 805,000 km2 and runs across nine countries, and splendid natural areas, such as the ones in Kopatki Rit or the Delta. The Cousteau team in Romania was composed of Jacques Constans, Bertrand Charrier, François Sarano, Grégoire Koulnis, Anne-Marie Roth, etc. It researched not only the natural area, but also the great hydro-technical constructions that influence so much the river's life, along with the pollution sources.The images from the Delta, the discussions with the Lipovan fishermen who commented on the dramatic fall in the number of sturgeon, the references to the wealth and diversity, to the ornithological fauna constituted an important part of the movie, but the most spectacular and interesting scenes were shot in the pelican colony.Led by people who knew very well the Delta, such as Adrian Gagea and Radu Anton Roman, Cousteau's men tried to disturb as little as possible the colony's peace.In parallel with the making of the four movies dedicated to the Danube (The Rise of the Curtain, The Dream of Charles the Great, The River's Screams, The River's Flooding) which presented the great European aquatic channel from its source in the Black Forest mountains to the mixing of its waters with the ones of the Pontus Euxinus of the ancient Greek sailors, the team of the Danube mission tried to figure out the great and acute problems of the river on whose shores 75 million people live. The team was interested in the human impact which threatens the life of the Danube, the channel Rhine-Main-Danube (the old idea of Charlemagne), the dams (Gabcikovo, Nagymaros, the Iron Gates), the old and ill-kept atomic facilities, such as the one in Kozlodui (which Cousteau visited, making a point in its closing down). The radioactivity along the river was monitored for a while with modern techniques and on the Romanian shore of the Danube the results were made public in March and November 1992. In 1993, with the help of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the final report of the mission was published, under the title The Danube... for whom and for what (186 pages), under the direct supervision of Bertrand Charrier, prefaced by Jacques Yves Cousteau. It comprises five sections – the first one is dedicated to the ecosystems, biodiversity and to the Delta, based on a previous report, published in November 1991 (The Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve), whereas the last section is dedicated to a case study: Gabcikovo (which, seen from above, looks like a giant wound in the middle of a splendid water meadow).In his preface, Jacques Yves Cousteau presents the three great problems that he came across during a helicopter flight in September 1990, from the river's source to its mouth: the Gabcikovo dam, the Kozlodui facilities and the Delta itself.Cousteau considers the dam to be a monstrous project with multiple implications in fields like: energy production, water resources, fishing, forestry, touching at the same time upon sensitive issues such as the national frontiers, with major consequences on the area's ecosystems.The atomic facility in Kozlodui which owns six reactors, of which four are an ancient, obsolete model, and is now in very bad shape, represents a potential threat for the entire Europe which is closer and more serious than the Chernobyl disaster. What does Cousteau say about the third critical area, the Delta, which he considers to be a unique natural park? Basically, things that many Romanian scientists had known for a long time without having been able to intervene in order to improve the situation. A great part of the Delta deteriorated because of the digging of transversal canals that obstruct the water's normal flow, because of the reed collecting (for a bankrupt paper factory) and of industrial exploitation, of the sands as well as of the aberrant politics of attracting foreign hunters, who did serious damage among the Delta birds.At the end of his text, Jacques Yves Cousteau suggests the creation of a Danube Supreme Council of multinational composition that would have the task of collecting data that should subsequently be offered to governments along with recommendations for necessary measures for natural environment protection. On the 30th of June 1997, I was on the sidewalk in front of Notre Dame cathedral when his coffin, carried on the shoulders of his old collaborators who were holding the symbolical red bonnet in front of their hearts, was put in the car that was going to transport him to the Saint-André-de-Cubzac cemetery. 

by Alexandru Marinescu