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

Is overfishing inevitable with population growth?
Well, let’s compare to what we’ve done on land. We’re no longer hunters and gatherers—we’ve become farmers. And we farm herbivores, like cows, not carnivores. We need to do the exact same thing with aquatic creatures. Whether fresh water or salt water, we have to farm herbivorous fish—it’s much less investment at the source for the return you get. The fact that we’re farming salmon is completely absurd—only rich countries can afford to do that that because you need 120 pounds of wild protein from the open ocean to make 1 pound of captive fish. On top of the resources it requires, we’re stuffing them with vitamins, antibiotics, and sometimes even colorant. It’s economically absurd; that’s not how we’re going to feed Africa or Bangladesh. There are several herbivore fish species that can be farmed on land. As long as you’re going to make that investment, you might as well do it where the demand is. That way you eliminate transportation and offer your customers fresh fish.

Less than one percent of people get to see the underwater world firsthand. Is it because we feel so distant from the ocean that we’re not doing a good job of protecting it?
We are distant. Look, when you take a bath or a long shower you start to wrinkle all over the place. We are not aquatic creatures, we’re temporary visitors. But we depend on the ocean, so we have no choice but to take care of it. We need to focus on environmental issues—and not just the ocean—in school systems at an early age. Kids are like sponges. They suck in all that information, and that’s the best investment we can make. Ocean Futures Society has education programs that take kids out of the classroom and immerse them in an aquatic environment for 3-5 days. Take a kid out of downtown Los Angeles who has never seen the ocean, and that child will never be the same. He or she goes back to school, shares that information, and becomes an ambassador, the voice of the ocean, the voice of the environment.

How do you approach people at the other end of the spectrum, those in positions of financial and political power?
Decision makers in industry and government are human beings like any others, so our approach is the heart. If you sit down and speak from the heart, ultimately you will reach the brain, but not the other way around. We were invited to present a two hour program we’d made on the northwestern Hawaiian island to the president and 50 guest at the White House. We were not preaching anything, we were just showing. And because of that, the president declared the northwestern Hawaiian island a marine national monument. It’s one of the largest protected pieces of ocean anywhere. It’s bigger than the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. You know why? Because it reached the heart. That’s all you have to do. Then good sense prevails.

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