In his 82 years on this planet, Jean-Michel Cousteau has probably spent more time underwater than just about anybody. The eldest son of legendary oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, the name is synonymous with ocean exploration, conservation and education.
Continuing to advocate for the environment through his Oceans Futures Society and a seemingly never ending travel schedule, from wide-eyed youngsters to world leaders, Jean-Michel makes it his business to touch lives in a positive and transformative way.
"This week we celebrate the vital importance of the ocean to the quality of our lives," said Jean-Michel, toasting to World Oceans Day.
The following are some of his thoughts on where he's been and where he's trying to go. Documented over the course to two interviews, one when when he received SIMA's 2012 Environmentalist of the Year award and another at the Ritz Carlton in Santa Barbara in 2019, his insight, knowledge and ability to articulate where ocean conversation is headed is unparalleled. Read and learn:
On The Name
The name opens doors. I know that it facilitates communication. People pay more attention. I know that, and I respect the people that are trying to make a difference and don't have the privilege that I have. I grew up in a time when there was no communication. My father was unknown, completely unknown, and I was part of pioneering days where he co-invented the regulator for SCUBA diving, submersibles, underwater habitats, going on expeditions. It wasn't until I was probably 18 or 19 that I realized, "Oh, that guy's different." It was all just part of the deal. My mother was there, my brother was there, the team was there. For me it was all part of our family. They were older brothers. Their whole professional lives, they were there. And today I think we have a responsibility to share that information.
On The Connection
There's one human family. We're all family. There's one ocean system, we all depend on it for the quality of our lives. You have a drink of water you're drinking the ocean. You go skiing, you're skiing on the ocean. It covers 70 percent of our planet and everything we put into ends up coming back around to us. We're very sensitive to the things we see, like garbage, but what about the things we don't see? What about heavy metals and chemicals, and that is a real problem because it is affecting even more than what we see. It affects the entire marine ecosystem. It affects the ocean completely. And ultimately, it affects us.
On The Opportunity
I sit down with decision makers, whether it's in the political system or the industrial system, and we show them what's happening to our oceans, with the understanding that these people have short-term obligations -- whether it's to be re-elected in four or five years or to show a profit. So with that in mind, these are people that have family and children like everybody else, so as long as you're not challenging them or you're not accusing them or pointing fingers at them, the defense goes away, you have a dialog and you can reach their hearts. And that's what we've been doing, and it has bared fruit in a many places; including several years ago with President Bush when we showed him what we discovered during one of our expeditions to the northern Hawaiian Islands. I was shocked, and he really was too. We found debris and garbage that comes from over 50 different countries floating in the ocean around this one part of the islands. He was so touched that after a meeting at the White House, along with some of his colleges and Mrs. Bush, he declared it a national marine sanctuary, which at the time was the largest piece of ocean protected on the planet.
On The Reality
We need to get past the idea that things just go away when you put them in the trash. Your cigarette light, your toothbrush, your mascara, your bottle top, plastic bag or whatever, it's going to effect the environment, it's not going to decompose, it's going to end up in the ocean one way or another, and it's going to kill things, and it's going to effect things, animals in particular. We catch those animals, put them on our plate and then wonder why we are getting sick. And that leads us to not just what you see, but what you don't see, chemicals and heavy metals. Before we didn't know about that, now we do, so more and more we are able to sit down with the people that created those products -- and with good intentions originally -- but we are able to tell them that there are other consequences and they need to be careful.
On The Solution
If you have a million people pick up five pieces of trash every time they come off the beach, that's tons and tons of material. Every human being, adults and children alike, need to think about the quality of their lives, they need to think about economy, money. If you are going to drive a hybrid car you are going to save money. If you make sure you don't have any leaks at your house, whether it's water or electricity, you save money. If you make sure that you turn off your lights -- I remember as a kid, I had to turn off the lights in my bedroom when I was leaving otherwise I was getting my ass kicked -- well, why? Because my parents wanted to save money. And at the end of the day, all of that helps you, but it also helps the environment because there's less emission of CO2. Everybody can help.