Sharks and tuna might be extinct by the time your kids grow up – but there is hope
While the state of damage that has been inflicted on the ocean might be dire, oceanographer, environmental activist, TV host and father-of-two Philippe Cousteau believes mankind can still turn things around.
By now, most of us are aware that climate change, overfishing and plastic pollution has led to a serious deterioration of our seas and oceans. But just how bad is it? Here is a number worth pondering: Humans have killed around 90 per cent of the sharks and big fish in the wild.
“Most of the big fish, like the tuna, marlin and snapper, have been depleted dramatically,” said oceanographer and environmental activist Philippe Cousteau. “I look at my daughter who is two years old and I know there are things she will never see – ecosystems and animals that are diminished beyond return and repair.”
If his name sounds familiar, it is because he is the grandson of the legendary Jacques Cousteau, the French marine explorer, filmmaker, co-inventor of the aqualung for scuba diving and pioneering conservationist.
Inspired by the legacy of his grandfather, the younger Cousteau is a prolific advocate for marine and environmental conservation. A multi Emmy-nominated TV host for the series Awesome Planet, the multi-hyphenate is also an author, speaker and social entrepreneur.
Some of the statistics, which he reels off during the Zoom interview with CNA Luxury from his home in Los Angeles, are rather depressing. “In my lifetime of 40 years, we have lost half of the world’s biodiversity and a little more than 65 per cent of wildlife on Earth has disappeared,” he said.
But rather than give in to despair, Cousteau is placing his hope on mankind’s willingness to give the ocean a fighting chance as well as the ocean’s own capacity to regenerate. After a year of COVID-19 related travel restrictions, he recently had the opportunity to travel to Belize and Jordan where he was greatly heartened by what he saw during his scuba diving expeditions.
“In my lifetime of 40 years, we have lost half of the world’s biodiversity and a little more than 65 per cent of wildlife on Earth has disappeared.” – Philippe Cousteau
At the Great Blue Hole located in the Central American country of Belize, an iconic diving site which his grandfather made famous in the 1970s, he found joy in the thriving ecosystem in this marine protected area. “In this case, the best thing we can do is step aside and leave nature alone to thrive,” he said.
Over in Jordan, he discovered that the bountiful coral reefs in the northern half of the Red Sea and up into the Gulf of Aqaba have evolved to be resilient to warm water. “The warmer temperatures that are causing reefs in other parts of the world to bleach and die is not affecting this area,” observed Cousteau, who is on the advisory board for a new marine research centre that is being developed there. Further studies into why these corals are so resilient could possibly be used to help other reefs, he added.
He said, “I think it is important to remember that there's opportunity and hope even without downplaying the seriousness of the crisis and the catastrophic decline in biodiversity. We need to remember that while humanity has a capacity to destroy and diminish, we also have an enormous capacity to rebuild, restore and grow. It is essential not to lose sight of that, as that is what motivates and empowers.”
To inspire the next generation of youth to take action for a more sustainable planet, he founded environmental education organisation EarthEcho International in 2005. “There is an opportunity to build a healthy planet and we are at a turning point here. This is why we are working with young people around the world who are full of optimism, passion and determination to build a different world,” he said.
“We need to remember that while humanity has a capacity to destroy and diminish, we also have an enormous capacity to rebuild, restore and grow.” – Philippe Cousteau
With a newborn baby due soon, Cousteau and his wife, Ashlan Gorse Cousteau, an American TV presenter and journalist, the young family are also instilling in their children a love for the natural world.
For example, the family has two pet chickens and he has built a small vegetable patch at their home in Los Angeles to grow tomatoes, lettuce and other plants. “I let my daughter dig in the soil and she picks tomatoes fresh off the vine and eats them,” said Cousteau.
He is looking forward to bringing her camping in the forest and swimming in the ocean when she grows a little older and is for now, revelling in the family’s beach outings closer to home. “We look at bugs and talk about birds and squirrels. While we may find them ordinary, all of these things are magical and wonderful to a child so it is about finding ways for her to feel connected to nature,” he said.
Adults, too, can walk the talk when it comes to making a positive impact on the planet. “All of us have the agency to change the world, even in small ways. If you care about the climate, food, justice, equity and the thriving of this planet, then be an advocate for it,” he urged.
“Then, of course, support companies that genuinely care and lead with best practices and buy products that are more sustainable,” he added.
Cousteau is a La Mer Blue Heart ambassador because of their “genuine and authentic support for conservation”, he said. The beauty brand, which is best known for its Creme de la Mer moisturising cream, has donated over US$5.7 million and has helped to support the protection of 16 million miles of unique marine habitats across the globe for over 15 years. Its latest La Mer Blue Heart Oceans Fund aims to support ocean conservation projects through awareness-raising initiatives and charitable donations.
“I let my daughter dig in the soil and she picks tomatoes fresh off the vine and eats them… all of these things are magical and wonderful to a child so it is about finding ways for her to feel connected to nature.” – Philippe Cousteau
Travel, too, is an important way for consumers to vote with their money. “A good rule of thumb is that if a place is doing really good, authentic work, you can bet your boots they are going to talk about it. Look out for partnerships with NGOs or places that highlight the work they are doing,” he said.
Some places that offer incredible – and conscious – diving experiences, he said, include Belize, Jordan, Palau, Costa Rica and Egypt. In Asia, favourites include the Philippines and Raja Ampat in Indonesia. He said, “You are going somewhere to spend your hard earned money, why not spend it on some place you can feel good about.”
Cousteau’s message, he says, is “one of hope and opportunity”. Before signing off, he said, “In order to solve climate change, we have to elevate the ocean to the centre of the conversation as oceans help to regulate our climate. It is a powerful ally and it is important to leverage the existing tools we have, like embracing sustainable fishing and actively restoring ecosystems. When we come together we can build a hopeful, just and thriving future for ourselves and our children.”
“When we come together we can build a hopeful, just and thriving future for ourselves and our children.” – Philippe Cousteau