Discover the Cousteau Marine Park, its wildlife and outstanding marine life!

Rédigé le Wednesday, August 6th 2014 à 16:40 | Lu 30476 fois

Nicknamed "La Réserve Cousteau" this site is part of the GUADELOUPE National Park . A few minutes from Malendure beach, the town of Bouillante has become the ideal place for diving, thanks to its rich fauna and flora that rival the most beautiful spots on the planet. It is rich in coral reef sponges, gorgonians, and colors and provides unforgettable encounters with hundreds of species of tropical fish, turtles, crayfish, eels, seahorses...

Cousteau Submarine
Cousteau Submarine
A little history: Where does the name Cousteau come from?
Who is Cousteau? Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910-1997), he began his career in 1930 as an officer in the French Navy and from 1939-1940 he fought in the Second World War. His nicknames, "Commander Cousteau" or "PACHA, are still well-known.  In 1937, he discovered the underwater world and became an avid sea-lover. Cousteau wanted to get to the bottom of the ocean and, with the help of engineer Emile Gagnan, he perfected the principle of the aqualung and the regulator. Cousteau first tested modern scuba diving equipment in the Var in the Mediterranean Sea in June 1943, with his loyal friends Tailliez Philippe and Frédéric Dumas; they were to become "The Three Muskateers." In 1950 Jacques Cousteau found  himself at the helm of a ship called "CALYPSO", on which he travelled the seven seas and became an oceanographic explorer, filmmaker and director of underwater documentaries. His famous ‘The world of silence’ with Louis Malle won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1956 and an Oscar in Hollywood the same year. In the eighties and nineties his documentaries were shown on television and inspired many young people to become divers. It is partly due to Cousteau that we have diving instructors!

"The Cousteau team" at Malendure in GUADELOUPE
At the end of 1959, mostly off the Pigeon Islands in Guadeloupe, Cousteau and his team performed diving tests for the diving saucer, one of the first underwater exploration vehicles with windows, providing views of the abyss. The crew descended 400metres down, a record at the time for this little submarine vehicle, which was only 3 meters wide by 1.46 meters high and could only accommodate two passengers lying on their stomachs in front of a window with 180 degree field of vision. There were big concerns when setting the vehicle’s configuration for dives as it was propelled by Hydrojets and powered by batteries. Saucer SP-350, nicknamed "Denise", was often operated by chief pilot, Albert Falco, and also the captain of the vessel, CALYPSO. During the 9th dive there was a short circuit in the battery, which damaged the little submarine. Whilst waiting for the repairs to take place, the team dived on the sites of Ilets Pigeon, and found the place beautiful. It did not take long for the Cousteau name to be associated with the Ilets. In 1974 Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Director of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco at the time, expressed in a letter addressed to the Director of INRA his favorable opinion for the sites to be classified as reserve due to their exceptional conditions. Even if this had not occurred, the name "Cousteau Reserve" was already commonly used by various local dive clubs.

Cousteau Reserve and the National Park of GUADELOUPE

Since 1996, the activities around Ilets Pigeon are regulated, including fishing and spearfishing. In 1989 and 2004, the Prefect of Guadeloupe regulated moorings and navigation around Ilets Pigeon, installing mooring bouys in the place of anchors. In 1998, the sculptor Albert FAGE created a bronze bust of Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau. He painted his famous red hat and varnished the bust. In January 2004, the mayor of Bouillante paid tribute to Jacques Yves Cousteau by immersing the bust on Ilets Pigeon by 12 meters deep, on the site of the "Coral Garden". This moving ceremony was attended by former members of the Calypso team such as, Albert Falco (former captain of the Calypso) Dr. Laval (the doctor aboard the Calypso), Michel Metery and of course Jean Michel Cousteau, son of the commander. Whilst the creation of the famous "Cousteau Reserve" was never a purposeful desire of Captain Cousteau, the underwater bust formally tributes the Commander. In June 2009 the National Park of Guadeloupe passed the Ilets Pigeon as the Heart or the Park and enlarged it to include the pool of Mahaut Point (Pointe Noire) in the north up to the tip of Lézarde in the south of Bouillante.

Pigeon Island in the Cousteau Marine Park
Pigeon Island in the Cousteau Marine Park
The Cousteau Reserve, one of the most beautiful dive sites in Guadeloupe.
With the calm of the Caribbean Sea, the beauty of the mountains of the leeward coast and a few minutes by boat from the beach Malendure, the main dive site of Ilets Pigeon have no less than six spots to discover. Victims of their own success, the islets are unfortunately overcrowded by divers during the tourist season. The two small islets, which have depths of 40 meters on the east and 60 meters on the west, are surrounded by a majestic slope up to the surface. Three of the main sites safe and easily accessible moorings, which are always close to the reef. There is something for both first-time divers and experienced diver with:

• The Coral Garden: A huge fabulous coral just 3 meters below the surface: brain coral, staghorn, elkhorn etc .... The slope brings us before the bust of Jacques Cousteau at 12m where the captain looks for shells to eat and Lobster - Strombus Gigas -move very slowly ... Then it's along the wall that we encounter curious Spadefish at 20 meter in schools and with their family. In moderate currents you can find Horse-Eye Jack hunting in groups at the forefront of the small islet which has the name. Imperturbable before her sponge, you can find a turtle enjoying his meal, leave him alone and hang back in the fields of gorgonians feathers which shelter butterfly fish.

• Pool: In a few meters of white water coral sand illuminates the pool. Invisible at first, this is where you can find the Mabouya and lizard fish watching the swimmers. The reef is rich and offers the opportunity to see barracudas keeping guard, a 30 meters valleys dotted with iron and black coral, some large lionfish sheltering  in the sand at 60 meters deep. Returning to the small islet, you will find some Thazard and French Angel fish who are curious about our noisy and shiny bubbles. We finish our underwater promenade in search of , yellow, orange, burgundy, black seahorses motionless and impassive...

• The Aquarium: The sand, which stretches like a long ski track, tumbles to a beautiful fall of 50 meters which is home to huge barrel sponges. Under the different levels of reef there are huge Royal lobsters and massive spider crabs. The course we take is led by the search for hot springs and you can discover some spotted morays and serpentines. We arrive at the solitary anticyclonic mooring buoy, which at 8/10 meters is a coral plateau fabulously rich in sponge balls, ropes, fire coral and festival tubular shapes and colors ...

The National Park uses buoys as anchors: white for professionals and yellow for boaters. They advise users:
•  The boat should be less than 12 meters.
• No anchoring at night.
• One boat per buoy.
• A driver must remain on board.
• obliged to check the anchor once attached.

Around the islets, 3 wrecks were immersed for divers:

• The Gustavia: in 1991 this coaster of Lacascade-Michaux was battered by Hurricane Hugo. No longer able return to sea, the boat was abandoned and left on the sandy bottom at 39 meters, facing the pigeon islets. On the way down, you can find many curious barracudas. The wreck appears and here we begin our exploration. A pair of French angel fish greet us and guide us through the terrain covered by sponge balls and tubes .... We soon feel the depth and eventually have to ascend due to the decompression, taking one last look at the sand and the "field" of garden eels. We then take our decompression stop under the careful supervision of barracudas.

• The Franjack: In 1996, this former sand transporter of 50m was purposefully immersed at 23 meters in order to create a new wreck that would be accessible to Level 1 divers. Abused by cyclonic swells, the boat has slowly disintegrated and plunged into the bottom, but its colonization by different sponges is spectacular. A multitude of fish benefit from this artificial shelter: snapper, gorettes,Pisquettes, cardinals, and some green turtles also take advantage of the spot for their naps at night. Under the sheets of metal you can find a huge green eel. The engine room is accessible to divers so get ready and sharpen your sense of adventure and discovery! A third wreck (upon reservation) is available between Thomas and the Anse a la barque: 

• The Augustin Fresnel II: This lighthouse ship was assigned to the center of Pointe à Pitre from 1990 to 1994 to oversee the maintenance of buoys in the Antilles and Guyana. Due to security reasons in hurricane season, the vessel was removed from its role and immersed in the water. The ultimate goal of this operation was also to create an additional site diving and that could also function as a base for scientific research.Immersed in 2003 at 25 meters, the strength of the cyclonic swell DEAN (Cyclone Class 4) in August 2007 moved the wreck 33 meters. The ship is now home to many species, including a pair of grey angel fish.

Also in the reserve, but along the leeward coast, there are 4 fabulous dive sites that are accessible to all but unfairly neglected as they are not on the islets:

• The Pointe Malendure: Here you can find several large rocks ranging between 5 and 15 meters, plenty of barracudas,Pisquettes, snapper, cassava, all hunting and spinning in every direction! Going up north small paths are drawn in the sand, hiding dollars and sea urchins. Near the rocks you can find nudibranchs moving slowly. If diving is for you then the following site is great:
• The Japanese Garden: This coral plateau is a succession of rocks and sand bars, in which marionettes play hide and seek. This site is particularly rich in gorgonians fans and trees which support the the monnaies carribes that eat them. In the midst of this site you can find various sponges and a multitude of small animals such as crabs billfish, brittle stars, the cleaner shrimp,shrimp Pederson, clap shrimp and shrimp Thor. Never far from divers, Royal ballista benefit from the swirls created by divers fins, allowing them  to feed without much effort. Before joining the boat we cross through an arch at 10 meters deep which I'd home to some Brazilian lobsters. 
• The Pointe Mahaut (near Pointe Noire). This tangle of rocks between 5-20 meters deep is the ideal life for reef fish. Parrotfish, surgeon fish and butterfly fish set the tone with their magnificent colours. Whilst for others, mimicry becomes the solution to survive and eat. This is the case for stone fish, lion fish, tropical carlet, trumpet fish, moray sands, seahorses and frogfish. Here, there is nothing they can do aside from blend into the landscape and wait for you to discover them!

• The Pointe Lézarde (near Bouillante): This mini piece if dry land is covered by several multicolored sponges. To the west you can go down to 40 meters, where there is a sudden drop. Given that Bouillante is known for its geothermal activity, it is no surprise that on this site we can find multiple hot springs of bubbling water. Here you can find long strings of bubbles escaping from the very jagged reef, in which lie a large number of crustaceans and fish, such as, the punctuated char,mombins, suns, Firefish Volitans. Closer to the surface, the dancing sergents  make your head spin.

The atypical SITES of ATLANTIS FORMATION diving club
Taking advantage of the expansion of the reserve by the National Park, Atlantis Formation has added some personal sites, along the leeward coast. Avoid the usual congestion of the Pigeon islets and discover new spots by escaping to sites like:

• Machete (Machete close range).

• The Mambo (near Mahaut).

• Champagne (near Boiling).

These sites accommodate all levels, even first-timers and beginners, and above all provide a place to dive without bumping into a horde of other divers. The fauna and flora are also great,  containing all the species described above!

Cousteau Marine Park encounters
Cousteau Marine Park encounters
Fauna and Flora of the Cousteau Reserve
"We were not expecting to see all of that, it's fabulous!". This is often the reaction of the divers when they reemerge from the water." If you have read the description of the different dive sites, you now have an idea of ​​the great ecosystem that are present in the Cousteau reserve. There is a huge diversity of corals,sponges, gorgonians and marine animals, such as fish, turtles, crustaceans, reptiles, shells to see. With a little luck you can also come across some stingrays and nurse sharks, rare animals that are quickly disturbed by the presence of divers. The privileged can even swim with dolphins, and from the end February to April see humpback whales that migrate through the Caribbean. We must protect this fragile ecosystem. The international reputation of the Cousteau Reserve is due to its flourishing coral reef and all the marine life that it houses. This biodiversity is still very fragile and threatened by several factors. The factor that is particularly important is related to water tourism (diving, kayaking, glassbottom boat, water hiking ...). Whilst these are already controlled by the National Park, increasing urbanization (leading to the disposal of more waste), natural pressures (hurricanes, hurricanes and floods), new super predators such as Pterois volitans (invasive species that have proliferated in the past 2 years), and pollution (pesticides used in plantations, such as Chloredécone) threaten this unique but fragile ecosystem. If this article about diving in the Cousteau Reserve has interested you, tell us your opinion in the comments section! 

1.Posted by Angelica on 12/17/2016 3:10 AM (from a mobile)
Wonderful explanation from the history of the underwater silence by Jacque Cousteau. Currently being on Guadeloupe I am excited to explore the imagination I have seen during my childhood many years ago.

2.Posted by Rasmus Winther on 06/02/2019 12:54 PM
This is wonderfully detailed and informative. Thank you for writing this. Truly. Are you a biologist? Have you been back since? Seems that conditions have deteriorated. In June 2019, at most 30% of the coral is in good shape.

Here's some text I wrote. And I will be sure to refer to your commentary going forward.

There is a statue of Jacques Cousteau embedded in the sand under the waves right off Les îlets Pigeons. Today, he is now missing his hand. Ironically, this is symbolic. Cousteau used to call this underwater haven one of his favorite spots on the Globe. Surely he would be in tears today. Only about 30% of the corals are alive. The rest have been ravaged by bacterial and viral illness, and eventually covered in algae, those photosynthetic organisms that shall inherit anthropogenically-destroyed coral reefs. It is easy to imagine, in your mind's eye, those colorful corals, and the vast multitudes of fish, some decades ago. Cousteau wrote poetically about them. Alas, no more. This is the ecological inheritance we shall gift to our children. Humans will wreak the greatest havoc by far on Gaia of any species. It is hard to forgive you. I doubt Cousteau would. Or maybe, like the Phoenix, he would rise again, from the ocean bed, and give us one last warning.

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