Fabien Cousteau spent much of his young life by, on and beneath the sea as grandson of famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.
He began his own career as an ocean filmmaker and researcher at age 7, accompanying his grandfather and parents to Papua New Guinea.
“I started at the bottom, scrubbing the barnacles off the hull,” he said.
Cousteau spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the Marine Environmental Research Institute on July 10 as part of its summer series, Oceans Matter: Conservation Conversations.
As an adult, Cousteau continues the family tradition of educating the public on the importance of the ocean’s ecosystem to our planet and daily lives.
“You have to be strange to be dedicated to an alien world,” he said of those who work in what he calls “Planet Ocean.”
“Oceans are the circulatory system of the world. What happens to the oceans, happens to us. Yet, people have always struggled to connect humans with the ocean.”
It is a schoolhouse fact that the world is 72 percent ocean, a number Cousteau called a misrepresentation of a number closer to 99 percent. Either way, modern-day explorers have covered less than 5 percent of the world’s oceans.
What they have found, Cousteau said, is that humans are changing oceans by “treating the planet as a garbage can.”
Cousteau showed a brief video that included the near-iconic photo of a huge expanse of white sand, 1,200 miles from human habitation, yet blanketed with plastic beverage bottles and other garbage, 70 percent of which, Cousteau said, is generated on land.
The increasing acidity of oceans, a result of global warming, is causing underwater cities of coral reefs to “literally melt.”
Cousteau called single-use plastic—utensils, bottles and Styrofoam containers —the one most detrimental object to oceans, and the one way a single individual can help ocean conservation, by choosing a different option when possible.
His hotel’s continental breakfast, he said, contained 14 pieces of single-use plastic.
“We need to lead by example, as individuals, as decisionmakers, as a country.”
31 days at 63 feet under the ocean
This fall, Cousteau will lead a team of researchers on Mission 31, where they will live for 31 days in an underwater habitat 60 feet beneath the ocean.
The research trip expands his grandfather’s 30 days in Continental Shelf Station Two by one day and 30 feet in depth. Jacques Cousteau built underwater habitats, Cousteau said, in order to live at the site of his research, without having to resurface to refill oxygen tanks.
Cousteau and his team will live aboard Aquarius Reef Base—located off the coast of the Florida Keys and owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—to study the effects of climate change and pollution on sea life. They will also measure the physiological and psychological effects of living on the ocean floor for an extended period.
“Why do we care?” he asked.
Not only for the sea creatures, he said, like Orca whales, feeding on Chinook salmon—the same salmon we eat—whose deep tissue retains chemicals from ocean pollution, but for the current and future young of our species, which needs a healthy ocean.
“The idea is to renovate the dream aspect for our future generations,” Cousteau said. “I want people to dream ocean, be connected.
“People protect what they love. But how can they love what they don’t know?”