Jacques Cousteau’s son fights to save the oceans

Jean Michel Cousteau is building support for marine conservation by taking kids out of the classroom and into the sea

By Tobin Hack

Photo by Tom Ordway for Ocean Futures Society

Jean Michel Cousteau took his first dive at age seven, when his father—renowned ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau—strapped an air tank on his back. The ocean has been Cousteau’s “backyard and second home” ever since, leading him to found Ocean Futures Society. The international marine conservation organization reaches out to everyone from children in poor urban areas to top world leaders. Cousteau recently collaborated with Francois and Jean-Jacques Mantello and Daryl Hannah on a new IMAX film, “Dolphins and Whales 3D,” and he is currently working on a new PBS documentary on the health of the Amazon. Plenty caught up with him to talk about “Dolphins” and about the biggest challenges facing marine conservation today.

What’s most valuable about the new film “Dolphins and Whales 3D”?
Short of being a scuba diver and being able to go to some very, very exotic places, this IMAX 3D is the second-best way really experience being in the presence of these incredible creatures. But we’re not trying to preach anything, we’re just trying to make accessible to the public to the beauty and the power of these animals. I think this close connection is going to be felt deeply. In 45 minutes, you’re going to get a concentrated experience taken from 600 hours spent underwater. It’s almost unnecessary to have words, it’s so powerful.

What do we need to do to reclaim our oceans’ health?
We need to stop destroying coastal habitats. Coastal habitats are critical for the great majority of all forms of marine life—for them to reproduce, find food, find protection from predators, and for the protection of the coastline against hurricanes and whatnot. So we need to stop destroying coral reefs, marshland, mangroves.

And we need to capture runoffs with lead, heavy metals, PCB’s, DDT, before they go in the ocean. By eliminating all those toxins from reaching the ocean we’re protecting the quality of our lives as well as the marine environment.

But most of all, we also need better fishing management. We are emptying the ocean of its resources, which affects every one of us. Today, tens of thousands of fishermen are out of work because there were poor regulations, poor understanding, poor management. I’m not a hypocrite, I eat fish, but I’m very, very specific about what I believe I can eat today. Ten or twenty years ago we were eating everything. The resources of the ocean should be managed like you manage a business. We have a capital, and we need to live off the interests that are produced by that capital. If we go beyond that, we’re heading toward bankruptcy, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now.

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