Oceanographer Continues Family Legacy
By Lynne Brandon
"People protect what they love"
Greensboro, N.C. - “At the age of seven I was pushed overboard into the ocean with a SCUBA tank on my back.” And, so began 90 minutes with Jean-Michel Cousteau, the world famous oceanographer and renowned environmentalist, educator, explorer and producer as he presented the last lecture of the 2011 Bryan Series season at this city’s highly-respected Guilford College.
The Cousteau name is synonymous with the ocean and conservation of all life within its waters. The eloquent Frenchman continues the legacy of his late father, Jacques Cousteau, while following his dream to be an underwater architect.
Like his father, Cousteau has traveled the world promoting the importance of protecting and preserving the earth’s waters. He founded Ocean Futures Society, a non-profit marine conservation and education organization in 1999 to honor his father’s profoundly influential work. The organization acts 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, Jean-Michel serves as the world’s most effective diplomat for the environment, reaching out to the people of the all nations through a variety of media, speaking engagements and other venues.
The passionate environmentalist alternately charmed and warned the spellbound audience in Greensboro about the consequences of not taking care of our oceans. “We need to manage our planet like a business,” Cousteau said. “I know it’s not romantic but it’s the best way to sustain our oceans.” Currently, only 1% of the ocean is protected and it is 70% of our planet.
Scenes from Cousteau’s work told the story visually from the horror of whale killing simply for fins and tails, Gulf oil spill and damaged wild life, to traces of flame retardant chemicals found in Orca’s. Cousteau warned of the danger of using the ocean as garbage dump which is becoming more and more common and not to succumb to an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. “The real danger is in the lack of visibility which essentially turns the ocean into a sewer,” said Cousteau.
Watching the humpback whale, the earth’s largest mammal glide through ocean waters, the beautiful sunflower starfish crawl across the ocean floor looking for food and a penguin besting a shark looking for prey seemed, for a few enchanting moments, to be nature’s symphony. Watching Cousteau swim with a shark while holding its fin, albeit carefully, evidenced a crowning achievement of his remarkable cinematography.
Cousteau’s call to action is awareness. “Get kids wet; have them touch the water, oceans and rivers,” reminded Cousteau. “And, know that when you drink a glass of water, you are drinking the ocean. When you are skiing you are on top of the ocean. The quality of our water is critical to our future.”
“The power to change someone’s mind is the hallmark of greatness” – Jean-Michel Cousteau