BRASILIA, Brazil -- Veteran French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau met the Brazilian navy minister Thursday to detail plans for his most daring expedition ever, a 13-month submarine, helicopter and hovercraft investigation of animal and plant life in the Amazon.
'This is the greatest and most difficult expedition I have ever undertaken, surpassing even my Antarctic trip,' Cousteau said. He and his son Jean Michel were also to meet President Joao Baptista Figueiredo to reinforce a plea for extensive Brazilian government back-up support for the expedition.
Cousteau said he planned to use the oceanographic submarine 'Calypso' together with a hovercraft, a helicopter, a conventional airplane and a complete film crew in the expedition of 40 scientists due to start in April.
'More than in any other expedition, (we hope to find) as-yet unknown discoveries about the animal life,' Cousteau said.
He said the expedition planned to film on animal and plant life in the region and to research the ecological relationship between the vast Amazon forest and the ocean into which the river flows.
In addition to contributing some 25 percent of all fresh water flowing into the world's oceans, the Amazon provides massive basic food resources for fish far out in the Atlantic Ocean, researchers have said.
Brazilian scientists calculated that the Amazon River system contains some 5,000 different kinds of fish. In comparison, they said, Europe boasts some 200.
The Amazon River basin spreads over some 2.7 million square miles with 15,000 tributaries and sub-tributaries -- four of them over 1,000 miles long -- joining to form the main river.
An average of 4.2 million feet of water -- equal to a solid cube the height of a 16-story building -- flows from the Amazon mouth each second to make it by far the world's largest river in terms of volume, although measuring 4,007 miles it takes second place in length to the 4,145 mile Nile.
In recent years large areas of the rain forest have been cleared for agro-industry projects including rice plantations and cattle raising.
While most of the Amazon lies in Brazil and covers around half that nation's territory, the basin extends over parts of Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam, and Equador.
Cousteau said scientists from these countries would be invited to join his expedition.