Cousteau Tribute gets needed upgrade

Divers are pictured after installation of the new Jacques Cousteau plaque in the Casino Dive Park. Courtesy photo

Divers replace Catalina Dive Park plaque that honors famed diver

The new plaque honoring Jacques Cousteau has a photo of him. Courtesy photo

An underwater plaque in the Casino Point Dive Park honoring the late, great Jacques Cousteau recently received an upgrade from a group of divers who wanted to replace the aging tribute. Cousteau die in June of 1997, and in October of the same year, the plaque was mounted to a rock and placed about 40 feet beneath the surface.

Pictured at left, is the original plaque as it appeared in 1997, and as it looked before it was replaced. Courtesy photo

However, after 23 years under water, the aluminum plaque had become weathered and illegible. That’s when Ken Kurtis, owner of Reef Seekers Dive Co., stepped in to see about replacing the plaque. Kurtis reached out to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, since they have jurisdiction over the park. He received permission to do the job, but then needed to figure out how to go about it.

As luck would have it, he was informed that another group was also interested in upgrading the monument. Kurtis was told that a group from Signature Underwater Divers (affiliated with Signature Scuba in Rancho Cucamonga) was inquiring about the plaque. Many of their divers are underwater mechanics, so had they had the know-how. Kurtis had obtained clearance; the two efforts merged and project moved forward quickly.

“The actual day of the replacement, November 4, we did it over the course of two dives — we almost made it in one dive but a bunch of the installers were starting to run low on air so we had to change tanks — so roughly a total of 90 minutes overall,” Kurtis said.

The installation was preceded by a few months of discussion, coordination and “survey” dives to shoot video and map out a plan for the new installation. Still, the group was able to plan and execute the project in about two months.

The rock on which the plaque was mounted had tipped over at some point in the past 23 years, so the plaque now faces up towards the surface.

The group was not sure how the first plaque was mounted on the rock and decided not to remove it, for fear of breaking the rock, or otherwise damaging the mounting surface. They decided to simply place the now plaque on top of the old one.

There’s an etching on the rock that says “Co-ordinated by Bob Wilson & Steve DeNapoli.” According to Kurtis, Steve was an instructor for American Diving in Lomita, which closed in 2006, but Steve died a few years ago. Kurtis has been unable to located Bob Wilson. The new plaque is the exact size of the original, and has been bolted at the corners.

“Plus we used a special underwater epoxy to further glue the back of the new to the front of the old, as well as to better secure our attachment points,” Kurtis said.

Cousteau inspired many divers over the course of his career. His television shows and documentaries brought the undersea world into people’s homes and a few of his programs were filmed in the waters of Catalina Island. Divers today, still look to him as their inspiration

“Cousteau was/is revered as a god-like person in the diving world, especially for those of us old enough to have grown up on, ‘The Undersea Adventures of Jacques Cousteau,’ not to mention Sea Hunt as well,” Kurtis said.

The new plaque is made of bronze and Kurtis admits they are not sure how long it will last before it needs replacement, but he said they are hoping to get at least 15 good years out of the new plaque.

“As best we can tell, the original plaque was aluminum and although it was down for 23 years, it should have been replaced ten years ago,” Kurtis said.

Although they needed permission from the California DF&W, the project had no funding from any public agency. It was funded by Reef Seekers Dive Co. and Signature Underwater Divers.

“It was simply a labor of love and respect, and our collective gift to the diving community as a whole,” Kurtis said.

Cousteau Tribute gets needed upgrade