A Q&A with Jean-Michel Cousteau

Published November 25, 2014

Jean-Michel Cousteau has dedicated his life to inspiring audiences, businesses and world leaders to act responsibly to preserve the fragile underwater ecosystems that are so intricately tied to all life on Earth.

jean michel cousteau

In advance of his lecture here at the Aquarium on December 3, Cousteau chatted with us about building a brighter tomorrow for our blue planet:

How has your father (explorer Jacques Cousteau) and his legacy shaped your own relationship with the ocean? 

As a child, I had the privilege of being in the ocean almost every day. 

When I turned seven, my father put a tank on my back, and I became a scuba diver. I’ve been a scuba diver ever since (and may be the oldest still diving!). I feel very privileged to have had a father that was very curious and wanted to discover new things. 

The more [my father] discovered, the more concerned he became. Today, we’re using the ocean as a garbage can and a universal sewer. Most people don’t realize how connected we are to the ocean. If you drink a glass of water, you’re drinking the ocean. If you ski, you’re skiing on the ocean. 

Today, there are between 4,000 and 5,000 children dying every day because they don’t have access to clean water. We can change their lives. My father helped me realize that at a very early age.

Do you have a favorite part of the ocean?

People ask me all the time what my favorite dive is…my answer will always be “the next one.” 

Why are marine-protected areas so important to the future health of our blue planet? 

Only two to three percent of our ocean (which covers 70 percent of the planet) is being protected. That’s ridiculously small. It’s not enough. To protect ourselves, we must protect the ocean. 

To protect nature means giving it a chance to reproduce. Certain industries, like the fishing industry, need to understand that we’re taking away from the ocean more than we produce. 

The communication revolution is giving us the opportunity to change things. It is my goal to help people understand how to better manage the resources they depend upon.

You played a big role in the establishment of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument. What was your reaction to the recent expansion of the Pacific Remote Island National Monument? 

Politics aside, every one of us depends on the health of the ocean. Ultimately, good sense prevails. In business you have to show a profit. In government, if you don’t do what the public expects, you won’t be re-elected. How do you connect that with improving our quality of life? That’s the challenge.

Since President George W. Bush established the Hawaiian Island monument, we now have a much bigger protected area in American Samoa. It’s a great model of the positive impact protection can have. 

I would like to see the majority of the countries of the world agree to protect 20 percent or more of the open ocean. The open ocean today is a no man’s land—a place where you can dump your sewage and garbage. 

We need laws and regulations that will make it illegal to do so. It’s the 21st century—we need to take hold of ourselves and start to manage our planet. 

For those that want to do their part to protect the ocean but are overwhelmed by the news of acidification, climate change and overfishing, where’s a good place to start? 

Education. We will never be able to manage what we do not understand.

My father used to say, “People protect what they love.” I think love comes with understanding. 

Finally, in the spirit of the upcoming holiday, what are you giving thanks for this year? 

I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to work on a few exciting projects, including a one-hour special on the island of Swains in American Samoa and an IMAX film, “Secret Ocean 3D,” which will bring what divers are discovering and experiencing directly to the public. I think they are going to be blown away! 

To learn more about Jean-Michel’s Ocean Futures Society, click here.

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