Let’s talk about our relationship with nature. Could you tell us a little bit about your projects “Plant A Fish” and “Mission 31”?
Cousteau: Being the oldest grandchild of my grandparents (noted oceanographic explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Simone Melchior Cousteau) I had the unbelievable opportunity to experience what it is like to be underwater at a very young age. And I have been hooked ever since. It’s like an addiction – but a good one, for once. So, going on expeditions is normal for me.
But that is not the case for everybody.
Cousteau: Most people don’t get the chance. So, we try to share the opportunities and experiences via story-telling and many other different devices. One of them – beyond traditional methods like making movies and going up on stage – is teaching others, especially young people, a much better fundamental understanding of environmental issues, thus allowing them to become part of the solution. Kids are natural out-of-the-box thinkers. The word “impossible” is not yet ingrained in their minds. That said, it is vitally important for them to experience the human-ocean connection, the human-planet-connection, because this is our world’s circulatory system.
Is that what you are doing with “Plant A Fish”?
Cousteau: With “Plant A Fish” we are using those connections as a platform for education and empowerment to get communities involved in restoring the aquatic environment. A lot of people are paying attention to the land, but most people don’t really think about the oceans.
One of your project involves oyster restoration in New York City’s Hudson River.
Cousteau: Yes, we are doing aquatic restoration with oysters. Most people don’t know that the Hudson River used to be the largest oyster reef in the world. More than nine billion oysters! In the 17- and 18-hundreds they were so popular all over the world that the trade in Hudson River oysters served as the financial foundation for building New York City. But because of this trade – and the pollution – there are very few oysters left today.
Would you eat those oysters?
Cousteau: Not near New York City. But the Hudson River has become a lot cleaner. Enough so that you can actually do restoration and it does have a positive impact. The oysters propagate, they do have sex.
Which is a good sign.
Cousteau: Other “Plant A Fish” projects include releasing baby sea turtles in El Salvador or planting mangroves in Florida.
How do you get people to participate in your projects? Are you going to schools?
Cousteau: Well, schools are a natural starting point. They are an easy place to connect with. But we are also working with adults. In El Salvador, for example, it is mostly about adults. Over there, fishermen were blamed for the decimation of sea turtle populations and I thought that – instead of jailing them – they could support our conservation efforts as they know where to find the sea turtle nests. So, why don’t we employ their services? And while we are doing this, why not also help them to understand why sea turtles are so important? This project has been very successful – not only have they stopped catching sea turtles in order to sell them on the black market, but they are now actually and actively releasing baby sea turtles from endangered species. So, it can be done. You just have to think outside the box.
You are planning to go on a 31-day underwater mission.
Cousteau: 50 years ago, my grandfather built the underwater village “Conshelf Two.” For 30 days, he took his team to live and do scientific work 12 meters underneath the surface. The resulting film, “World without sun”, won him an Oscar.
50 years later, we still haven’t progressed down the route he had imagined, i. e. living underneath the sea. He was very much a visionary and saw that the planet was overcrowded. Eventually, the next logical place to live would be on the continental shelf. We haven’t gotten there yet. As a matter of fact, there is only one undersea laboratory in the world. It is 20 meters down – and that is where I am going to be. 16 kilometers offshore of the Florida Keys. I am going to take a team down for 31 days, at twice the depth. But there is a difference. This time around, we come equipped with a tool I am sure he would have loved to have had.
Cousteau: We can talk live to the world, both inside and outside the habitat and while doing our work. This means we can reach outer space if we want to. What a fantastic idea! We are going to use this as a broadcast platform as much as an expedition and a scientific platform.
Interview: Reinhold Koehler and Alexandra Schade
header image: Kip Evans, Mission Blue