Jean-Michel Cousteau: “Protect the ocean and you protect yourself.”

Written by on October 23, 2011 in Editor's Choice, Interviews, Other News

Emily Tripp
Marine Science Today Senior Writer

Jean-Michel Cousteau made an appearance at the Society of Environmental Journalists Conference in Miami this year.  He, along with his family, spoke at the opening night about his legendary father Jacques-Yves Cousteau, and the legacy that their family continues today.

I had the privilege of speaking with Jean-Michel after the conference on Saturday about his work and his non-profit organization, Ocean Futures Society.

Jean-Michel, explorer, environmentalist, educator and film maker, founded Ocean Futures Society in 1999 to honor and continue his father’s work.  It is a non-profit organization dedicated to marine conservation and education.

We began by discussing the mission and benefits of Ocean Futures Society.  He responded, “the best part is that we’re looking at the planet globally.  I don’t believe you can address local issues if you don’t understand the big picture.”

Jean-Michel Cousteau.  Photo Credit: Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society.

Jean-Michel Cousteau. Photo Credit: Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society.

He explains that because over 70 percent of the planet is covered in water, everything is connected.  You can’t simply focus on one issue when everything is directly related.  That is why Ocean Futures communicates with the public, the decision makers and the media.  Everybody needs to know, and everyone’s cooperation is important.  He explains that Ocean Futures is attempting to communicate “the fact that unless we take care of our water system, we’re in trouble.  And it’s not a matter of saving the whales or the dolphins…it’s about saving ourselves.”

“The other important thing with Ocean Futures is that we are not pointing fingers.  We are not attacking or being aggressive against anybody.  Our mission is to have a dialogue.”  Jean-Michel believes that placing blame doesn’t work–it’s about communicating the problem to everyone.  He says, “it’s a matter of reaching the heart.  We can reach the brain; the brain is fairly easy to reach but if you can reach the heart, then things change.”

“We know it works because we’ve done it.”  One of the biggest accomplishments of Ocean Futures Society is also a perfect example that reaching the heart can be successful.  “For example, that’s how we were able to convince President Bush to make the Northwest Hawaiian Islands the biggest piece of protected oceans on the planet at the time.”

He reminds us that President Bush wasn’t known to be an environmentalist.  “It was not his focus as the President of the United States to protect the ocean…but we were able to sit down with him, some of his representatives and also his wife, and show them the way things are.”  He explains that once they know, they start asking questions and wondering what they can do about it.  Thankfully, the Bush Administration had the power to do something about it, and they did.  He explains how that was the perfect example of the difference between attacking someone, and reaching out to their hearts.

He also explains how there are many smaller examples of success stories.  His educational programs began in the 70s, long before the creation of Ocean Futures Society.  He tells me that there are people who will contact him to say that they were in his program 27 years ago, and the decisions they make today are still directly impacted by what they learned back then.  This is why his educational programs focus on young people “who are like sponges–they literally absorb everything.”

I asked how you reach people who don’t want to know, and he explained “you sit down with them and you try to reach their heart.  If you have the right tools and you do it the right way it works…it’s a lot of work, a lot of patience but if you have the right elements, the right information, people listen.”

I asked him if he was more or less optimistic now and he explained simply: “I’ve always been optimistic.”

“Well, yes, sometimes I am discouraged, but…I look at a seven year old and I think ‘Am I going to let him down?’ and that’s how I recharge.  And it works.  We have a big job but we know what to do…Reaching the heart, that’s what we really need to do.”

Copyright ©  2011 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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