By Dave Sigworth, publicist of The Maritime Aquarium
We welcomed Jean-Michel Cousteau to The Maritime Aquarium last night, and his insights into the state of the oceans were, at times, sobering but also, at times, inspiring.
But, first, for anyone old enough to remember the many wonderful TV specials of his late father, Jacques: Jean-Michel’s voice doesn’t sound like his dad’s. But he does have that wonderful French accent. “Water” is “wah-tair.”
Jean-Michel also inherited his father’s passion for the ocean, which – he acknowledged, few know – was also his mother’s. He pointed out that Simone Melchior Cousteau spent more time aboard the famous family ship Calypso than he, his dad or his brother. For her work with Jacques in developing SCUBA … and as the first female scuba diver … she was inducted this year into the Women Divers Hall of Fame. (www.wdhof.org)
Jean-Michel served for 20 years as executive vice president of the Cousteau Society before striking out on his own in the early 1990s to produce environmental films. Honoring his family heritage, Cousteau founded Ocean Futures Society in 1999. The non-profit marine conservation and education organization serves as a “Voice for the Ocean” by communicating the critical bond between people and the sea and the importance of wise environmental policy. As Ocean Future’s spokesman, Cousteau serves as an impassioned diplomat for the environment.
In his 90-minute presentation last night, Jean-Michel recounted successes he has had in defending the environment. These include persuading Pres. George W. Bush to create the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, lobbying California to ban PBDEs in products as a flame-retardant, and moving the orca named Keiko – the star of the 1993 movie “Free Willy” – from Mexico to better facilities in Oregon and later Iceland.
The audience was treated to film clips from various Cousteau/Ocean Futures Society expeditions, which have witnessed the beautiful (spawning corals), the brutal (gray sharks mating), the befouling (huge rafts of ocean pollution) and the behemoth (humpback whales).
Despite the ocean insights that the Cousteaus have offered us all in the last 60 years, it hasn’t changed our behaviors enough. “We need to stop using the ocean as a garbage dump,” he said.
Jean-Michel said he finds hope for the oceans in “the communication revolution.” The internet offers the incredible ability to share information and rally support, especially among young people, “the decision-makers of tomorrow.”
And he finds excitement in new technologies that will help us to better explore the oceans below the thin upper sunlit zone. Although he just turned 75, Jean-Michel intends to be among the first to don an “Exosuit,” a futuristic dive suit that will let its wearers descend to 1,000 feet. (www.exosuit.com)
“We’re going to start learning about what we don’t know,” he said. “And I want to be there.”
Learn more about Jean-Michel’s work at www.oceanfutures.org.