Since we last talked to Philippe Cousteau, grandson of the late explorer Jacques Cousteau, he was taking a break from real life adventuring to play an oceanographer in “The Aquatic World,” an irreverent and informative online video series. But once again Cousteau traded in the script for a ship and is off to new shores — this time in the Caribbean. He and his wife Ashlan Cousteau, a journalist who worked for Entertainment Tonight and E! News, are tracking down buried silver and gold in the new Travel Channel series “Caribbean Pirate Treasure” starting August 20. The married couple of nearly four years take you along for the ride as they travel to places including St. Croix, the Dominican Republic and Honduras to find whatever history they can dig up.
Treasure hunting, they’ve found, is hard work. “When people think of a television show that’s based in the Caribbean, they think piña coladas and white sandy beaches,” says Ashlan. “Even our family and friends think that. So we’ve had to explain to them that, indeed, that is not what we were doing for the past three-and-a-half months.”
During one episode, the couple braved reef-invested waters to uncover a wreck Philippe’s grandfather found in 1968 while looking for the Concepción’s treasure. That meant going to Silver Bank and floating through a maze of coral heads in a 75-foot boat, with the crew peering over the side to make sure they didn’t run into one. Only one boat was willing to take them out into these waters, and for a good reason. If they hit a coral head, it could rip a hole in the boat, leaving them among the shipwrecks.
After five days on the water, they finally came across an area that looked exactly like Jacques described in his 1971 book about finding the sunken ship. They found the same wreck Philippe’s grandfather discovered half a decade earlier.
The “high adventure of the unknown” in the show is allowing Philippe to reconnect with his roots in a new way, because he says most people associate his grandfather with conservation and exploration. Environmental themes will be included in the show, but it focuses on embarking on a journey to new places and understanding history.
“It’s really incredible to be underwater and holding an artifact or a piece of treasure that hasn’t seen humans for 250 years,” says Philippe, “and it’s just been sitting there in the shifting sands of time.”
In another moment in the show, Ashlan and Philippe hunted for treasure in a cave in the Commonwealth of Dominica. But they were alarmed to find themselves surrounded by bats. After going through all that, did they find the treasure? They won’t say. “It’s one of the locations that I’m really looking forward to go back to, if that means anything,” says Ashlan.
Fair enough. Despite spending most of their time looking for treasure, the couple was able to hit the beach a little bit and drink piña coladas – in addition to two-century-old gin. It tasted salty, which makes sense if it has spent the last two hundred years at the bottom of the seafloor in a shipwreck. “You know what? I actually hate gin, but I really enjoyed that gin,” Ashlan says.
“Caribbean Pirate Treasure” will air back-to-back episodes on Sunday, Aug. 20 at 10 and 10:30 p.m. There are 13 episodes in total. In the first one, Ashlan and Philippe will look for the hidden treasure of the pirate Jean Hamlin in St. Thomas.