What were Jacques Cousteau top ten dive sites in the world?

Top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau

Jacques Cousteau was my idol as I was growing up. I loved watching his underwater programs that were filmed from his Calypso boat. This article explores the top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau.


Top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau include the following bucket list dive sites: The Great Blue Hole, Belize; Cozumel, Mexico;  Sipadan, Borneo of Malaysia; Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand; Heron Island, Australia; Aliwal Shoal, South Africa; Richelieu Rock, Thailand; Sha'b Rumi in the Red Sea, Sudan; Vancouver Island, Canada; and The Cocos Islands, Costa Rica.


Who is Jacques Cousteau?

Top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau - a portrait

For those that don't know Jacques Cousteau, he was a famous underwater filmmaker. His full name was Jacques Yves Cousteau. Also, in the above image Jacques Cousteau is the one dead centre, and to the right of President Kennedy (or on President Kennedy's left shoulder).

He's also referred to as the 'Father of Scuba Diving.' He spent his life exploring the underwater world.

In the early 1940's he also co-developed the aqua lung and was a marine conservation pioneer. So all modern day scuba divers have Jacques Cousteau to thank for what we have today.

He died back in June 1997, so many younger scuba divers wouldn't necessarily know about him. But for those that remember his films and stories, he was a very much loved character. Although, Jacques Cousteau is not without his controversy.

Blue Hole, Belize

The Great Blue Hole - Belize

I've already written about scuba diving in Belize, which is where the Great Blue Hole is located.

This deep blue hole is most spectacular when viewed from above, as you'll see from the above image. The Great Blue Hole was made famous by Jacques Cousteau. He brought his renowned research ship Calypso to investigate its depths back in 1972.

The following video, whilst long (i.e. 48.42 minutes), includes The Great Blue Hole, as filmed by Jacques Cousteau. You'll get to hear the voice of the famous explorer Jacques Cousteau too. This brings back great memories for me.

The famous Great Blue Hole of Belize is a sight to be seen. It is worth the trip to Belize on its own and is on many a bucket-list of scuba divers. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Great Blue Hole lies near the center of Lighthouse Reef. This is a small atoll and is around 62 miles (100 KM) from the mainland. The Great Blue hole and Lighthouse Reef is part of the larger barrier reef, which also forms part of the World Heritage Site too.

The Blue Hole is over 124 metres deep (406 feet) and over 300 metres (1,000 feet) wide. The hole forms an almost perfect circle and its circumference is almost 1,000 metres (3,140 feet). This makes it the largest natural formation of its kind in the world. The depth of the water that surrounds The Great Blue Hole is at around 12 metres (40 feet). This makes it accessible to less experienced and beginner scuba divers too.

Sea life around the Great Blue Hole

The sea life is more around the Great Blue Hole, rather than inside it. This includes the usual Caribbean sea creatures, and includes:

  • Various reef sharks, including grey, whitetip and blacktip reef sharks.
  • Turtles.
  • Grouper.
  • Gobies.
  • Butterfly fish.
  • Angel fish.
  • Pederson's cleaner shrimp.

Video of The Great Blue Hole Belize

Cozumel, Mexico

Top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau - Cozumel Mexico

Imagine crystal clear waters, an abundance of sea life and to top it off lovely warm waters too. I've just described the waters off Cozumel, which is a small island off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Jacques Cousteau declared Cozumel the most spectacular diving site in the world in 1961, which is why it's in the top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau.

Now a Mecca for scuba diving vacations, where drift diving is common place. Cozumel is also renowned for its incredible snorkeling and scuba diving due to the sea’s remarkable clarity.

Regardless of whether you're a certified scuba diver or a first-time snorkeler, the island is has accessible sites for all underwater exploration. You'll find one of the world’s largest reef systems there.

One that literally teems with tropical fish and marine life. Click this link if you'd like to find out more about scuba diving at Cozumel.

Sea life of Cozumel, Mexico

As Cozumel is in the Caribbean Sea, the sea life there is of a tropical kind. This includes the usual corals and coral fish life. Examples of the creatures that live there include:

  • Grey, whitetip, blacktip reef sharks.
  • Nurse sharks.
  • Rays, including sting rays.
  • Turtles.
  • Lobsters and crabs
  • Giant moray eels.
  • Barracuda.
  • Grouper
  • An abundance of the usual corals and coral sea life including parrot fish, angel fish and trigger fish.

Video of Cozumel

Sipadan, Borneo Malaysia

Top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau - Sipadan, Borneo Malaysia

Sipadan is most divers dream location. Back when Cousteau visited Sipadan and filmed there, it would have been completely untouched.

Although the waters are still crystal clear and full of life, there are many more divers visiting the region now. In fact Cousteau said, “I have seen other places like Sipadan 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art.”

Sipadan is located off Borneo's east coast, which is to the east of the Malaysian peninsula. Borneo has many names, which include East Malaysia (Malaysia Timur), also known as Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan (Sabah, Sarawak dan Labuan) or Malaysian Borneo. It is the part of Malaysia and is the world's third largest island.

Sipadan now claims to be the worlds best dive site. Some would agree with this, but others have their own favourites. The island of Sipadan is located in the Celebes Sea and is formed of living corals. These corals grew on top of an extinct volcano.

Sealife at Sipadan

Frequently seen in the waters around Sipadan include the following:

  • Green and hawksbill turtle, which mate and nest there.
  • Large schools of barracuda.
  • Large schools of big-eye trevally.
  • Bumphead parrotfish.
  • Pelagic fish species that include manta rays, eagle rays, scalloped hammerhead sharks.
  • Whale sharks are also seen in the region.
  • More than 3,000 marine species and corals.

Due to the large number of turtles in the region, there's a tomb that contains many skeletal remains of these sea creatures. This turtle tomb lies underneath the column of the island, formed by an underwater limestone cave with a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers.

There are no dive resorts on the island of Sipadan. Which means the only way to scuba dive the area is by day boats from the mainland or by a liveaboard. Click this link if you want to book the MV Celebes Explorer, which is the only Malaysian liveaboard operating in the Sipadan area.

Sipadan video

Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand

Top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau - Poor Knights Islands New Zealand

New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places in the world to visit. I've not yet scuba dived there, but I have visited both the north and south islands. Plus I've snorkeled there in a few locations.

The Poor Knight Islands are a nature reserve and are uninhabited. They are located off the northern part of the New Zealand's north island. The reason why Cousteau would include these in his top 10 dive sites is the abundant sea life (see video below) and clear waters.

Beneath the waves at the Poor Knights Islands, an vast ocean of diving has been compressed into a relatively small area.

Sea life at the Poor Knights Islands New Zealand

Under the water you'll find kelp forests on the upper reaches of the tumbling ‘giant staircase.’ You'll also experience the dark waters of the islands' many caves. The Poor Knights Islands offer an extraordinary variety of underwater experiences for scuba divers and for snorkelers alike.

This sea life a the Poor Knight Islands includes:

  • Rays.
  • Moray eels.
  • Sharks, which can be seen in the video I've included in this article.
  • You may also be lucky to see dolphins on the surface on your way to or back from the dive sites.
  • Numerous other sea life and corals, as show in the video.

The best way to dive the Poor Knight Islands is with Dive Tutukata, who are located in Tutukaka, New Zealand.

Poor Knight Island video

Heron Island, Australia

Heron Island off the east coast of Australia is so good that Jacques Cousteau, probably the world’s most famous undersea explorer of our time, listed Heron Bommie as one of his top 10 favourite dive sites. It is also noted for the visible wreck HMAS Protector, as in the above image.

Australia is one of my favourite places on the planet to visit. Having lived in Perth for a while, I have a real affinity for the lifestyle and culture. But Heron Island is on the opposite coast to Perth.

Heron Island is a coral cay located near the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern Great Barrier Reef. It is 50 miles (80 kilometres) north-east of Gladstone, Queensland, Australia. The waters around Heron Island are mostly shallow and crystal clear, plus most importantly warm.

There's a research station on Heron Island, which is featured in the video below. The island itself is only 800 metres long (2,600 feet) and 300 metres wide (980 feet).

Sea life around Heron Island, Australia

  • Green and loggerhead turtles, which lay their eggs on the island.
  • Reef sharks, including white tip, grey and blacktip sharks.
  • Shovel-nose sharks or shovelnose guitarfish.
  • Rays, including the white spotted eagle ray.
  • Manta rays.
  • Barracuda.
  • Lobsters, crabs and Cleaning shrimp - see video below to see them cleaning a snorkeler.
  • Giant clams.
  • Coral reefs and the usual reef fish species.
  • Plus you may be fortunate to see humpback whales in May to June.

Video of Heron Island, Australia

Aliwal Shoal, South Africa

Top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau - Aliwal Shoal South Africa

Aliwal Shoal was rated by Jacques Cousteau as one of the top 10 dive spots in the world. The abundance of sea life is what drew him there, and is now what modern day scuba divers love too. Especially the shark population.

The sea temperature during summer months averages a warm 24° C (75° F). In the winter the sea temperature doesn't drop much below 19° C (66° F), as the Aliwal Shoal lies on the inner edge of the Mozambique current. This current is rich in nutrients, which results in the plethora of marine life there.

Aliwal Shoal is three miles (5 km) off the coast of the small KwaZulu-Natal town of Umkomaas. The Shoal itself is a rocky reef, which was named after the sailing vessel Aliwal. The Aliwal ship almost crashed on the rocks in 1849.

Scuba divers that frequent this dive say that the thrill of the rocky ride over the breakers to get there is second only to the dive itself.

Aliwal Shoal is a large rocky area in the middle of a vast sandy plain. There are many caves and rocky overheangs too, many of which are home to the 'Raggies' or ragged tooth sharks.

Sea life at Aliwal Shoal

At the Aliwal Shoal you are likely to see 15 to 20 sharks at any one time. This is what attracts many of the a scuba divers here. You can also see:

  • Black tip reef sharks, tiger sharks, bull sharks (Or Zambezis) and raggies or ragged tooth sharks (also known as grey nurse sharks) come to the area to mate.
  • Manta rays.
  • Moray eels.
  • Huge stingrays.
  • Sweetlips.
  • Potato groupers (also known as potato bass or cod).
  • Turtles.
  • At certain times of the year, you can also hope to see dolphins, humpbacks, whale sharks and hammerheads.
  • Plus many pelagic and coral fish that frequent the 3 miles (5 kilometre) long reef or shoal.

Video of Aliwal Shoal shark diving experience including a tiger shark

Richelieu Rock, Thailand

Top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau - Richelieu Rock Thailand

Richelieu Rock is a horseshoe-shaped reef in the Andaman Sea about 125 miles (200 KM) north west of Phuket. Which is also about 50 miles (80 km) north west of Khao Lak off Thailand's Phang Nga Province. Richelieu Rock was discovered by Jacques Cousteau, with the help of local fishermen.

Richelieu Rock is part of the Surin National Marine Park and is one of Thailand's most iconic dive sites. But because of the distance from land most dive trips to the site are via liveaboard. Click this link if you'd like to find out more about diving Richelieu Rock.

There are strong currents in the area, see the end of the second video. This makes the dives a drift dive so more advanced and experienced divers tend to dive the region.

Sea life around Richelieu Rock, Thailand

The sea life around Richelieu Rock is truly amazing. The creatures you'll see include:

  • Mass shoals of fish - see video below.
  • Turtles.
  • Various reef sharks, including grey, whitetip and blacktip reef sharks.
  • Rays including manta rays.
  • Moray eels.
  • Whale sharks - see second video of Richelieu Rock below.
  • Barracuda.
  • Grouper.
  • Shovel nose rays.
  • Lion fish.
  • Banner fish.
  • Trigger fish.
  • Snappers.
  • Plenty of corals and the usual coral fish species, but in particular it's known for its purple corals.

Video of Richelieu Rock, Thailand

A second video of Richelieu Rock showing a whale shark.

Sha'b Rumi, Sudan

I love the Red Sea diving. I've been there many times and have dived from mainland Egypt, as I have from a liveaboard too.

But the Red Sea is not restricted to Egypt, as you can dive it further south off the coast of Sudan too. The benefit of the southern Red Sea is that it's visited by less scuba divers. The reefs are more in tact and there's more sea life, especially sharks.

Jacques Cousteau had a love of the Red Sea. He not only loved to scuba dive there, but he also discovered one of my favourite wrecks British Merchant Navy ship SS Thistlegorm. This ship was sunk in the Second World War in October 1941 near Ras Muhammad in the Red Sea.

Going back to Sha'b Rumi, Jacques Cousteau created an underwater home in 1963. The experiment was with six divers (or oceanauts) from his team and they lived for 30 days in a structure referred to as a garage. The experiment was named by Cousteau as Precontinent II.

The video below shows what this underwater structure looks like today, which has been colonised by corals and reef fish. There was a Precontinent I that preceded this experiment, as there was Precontinent III that followed it.

Precontinent II is just 10 metres (33 feet) below the surface of the Red Sea. It can be found in the lagoon, where the entrance to it was blasted by Cousteau himself. Which went against the grain a bit, being the conservationist he was. Leaving this rotting structure was also a bit controversial too, but now as it's home to many Red Sea species, he can be forgiven for that.

Sea life at Sha’b Rumi

The sea life at Sha’b Rumi is like many parts of the Red Sea, it's both abundant and prolific. The creatures you'll encounter there include:

  • Hammerhead sharks (see video below).
  • Various reef sharks.
  • Oceanic whitetip sharks.
  • If you're lucky whale sharks.
  • Moray eels.
  • Rays.
  • Manta rays.
  • Jacks.
  • Barracuda.
  • Trigger fish.
  • An abundance of coral reefs and the usual fish life found around coral reef systems.

Sha'b Rumi video

Vancouver Island, Canada

Top Ten Dive Sites In The World By Jacques Cousteau - Vancouver Island Canada

After talking about one of Jacques Cousteau's loves, the Red Sea, second only to this is Vancouver Island on Canada’s west coast.

In fact Jacques Cousteau's words to describe Canada's west coast were “the best temperate-water diving in the world and second only to the Red Sea.”

Vancouver Island has over 17,000 miles of coast line. It's known for tremendous tidal currents, whirl pools and back eddies, which can be seen in the video below. The currents are most spectacular as they force their way through between Vancouver Island and Quadra Island.

The currents run at around 14.5 knots (16.7 miles per hour or 26.9 kilometres per hour), way too fast for scuba diving. But the waters around this area can be dived during slack.

Sea life at Vancouver Island

The sea life around Vancouver Island is varied and numerous, and includes:

  • Sea lions.
  • Giant Pacific octopus.
  • Sea otters.
  • Seals.
  • Bluntnose sixgill sharks, also known as the cow shark.
  • Wolf eels (see video below).
  • Dolphins.
  • Gooseneck barnacles.
  • Nudibranchs and sponges.
  • Feather duster worms.
  • Herring and salmon.
  • Orcas or killer whales.
  • Humpback whales.

Video of Vancouver Island showing a wolf eel being fed

Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau - Cocos Island Costa Rica

The Cocos Islands are known for their hammerhead sharks. The dive site also takes only the dedicated scuba diver to get there, as it's a 36 hour trip by boat 342 miles (550 km) off the west cost of Costa Rica. That means the only way to dive there is from a liveaboard. Click this link if you would like to book a trip to the Cocos Islands.

I remember missing out on this trip when the dive club I was a member of went. The ones that were lucky to go came back with grins from ear to ear. They said it was amazing. The sharks were almost uncountable, there were so many of them.

The abundant sea life there is as a result of the converging nutrient-rich currents from nearby deep water. This attracts a multitude of pelagic action to Cocos.

It's easy to see why Jacques Cousteau loved this dive site and put it in his top 10 dives around the world. The island has around 20 dive sites, which are all in a compact location.

These range from shallow but steep vertical walls, drift diving, to deep pinnacles down to over 40 metres (130 feet), and blue water dives. Due to its location and because of the currents in the region, the diving is really only suited to the more advanced and experienced scuba divers.

The island was formed from ancient volcanic activity, where its only current inhabitants are park rangers, except of course for the wild life.

Sea life of Cocos Island, Costa Rica

The sea life around the Cocos Islands are rich and abundant, as you'll see from the video below. These include the following:

  • Scalloped hammerhead sharks.
  • Blacktip, whitetip and silvertip reef sharks.
  • Tiger sharks.
  • Whale sharks.
  • Rays, including spotted eagle rays which can be seen swimming in numbers.
  • Manta rays.
  • Turtles.
  • Many mega shoals of all types of fish species.
  • Dolphins.

Video of Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Have you been counting the dives sites I listed? Well even if you have there's a sneaky 11th top dive site that Jacques Cousteau was famous for exploring.

Jacques Cousteau Truk Lagoon - Lagoon of Lost Ships

Rio de Janeiro Maru Wreck - Truk or Chuuk Lagoon - With Name Plaque

Jacques Cousteau filmed a documentary "Lagoon of Lost Ships" about the shipwrecks of Truk Lagoon in 1969. This being 25 years after Operation Hailstone attack by American Forces on the Japanese Naval fleet moored in Truk Lagoon.

The image above is of one of the popular Truk Lagoon Wrecks, the Rio De Janeiro Maru, which is sitting in around 33 metres (110 feet) of water.

When his documentary was first released it reveled new discoveries to the world. Many would say that it was Jacques Cousteau who inspired many divers to want to dive this amazing location for so many wrecks in one place.

The Cousteau diving of Truk Lagoon culminated with an eerie dive on one of the many wrecks. As they arrive on this wreck they find anti-aircraft guns still pointing to the sky, showing that the Japanese sailors were fighting up to the minute this ship sank back in 1944.

They proceed to the hold at 85 metres (280 feet), where they record spectacular footage of the remains of hundreds of soldiers who perished when this ship sank. To see footage of Philippe Cousteau, please take a look at this article 'Truck Lagoon human remains.

I hope you enjoyed this article about top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau

I’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your adventures of diving and snorkeling, in the comments below. Please also share your photos. Either from your underwater cameras or videos from your waterproof Gopro’s!

If this article hasn’t answered all of your questions. If you have more questions either about snorkeling or scuba diving (or specifically about top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau), please comment below with your questions.

There will also be many more articles about scuba diving (and snorkeling) for you to read and learn about these fabulous sports.

Have fun and be safe!


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