A few weeks ago, we were invited to hear a lecture by oceanographer and environmentalist, Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the late Jacques Cousteau. Frank and I grew up enthralled by The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and are proud owners of several of Jean-Michel's video series on PBS. We wanted Alex to hear what he had to say, since care of the ocean will largely be left to the next generation.
Cousteau was speaking at the Northern California regional convention of Rotary International. We were invited to the dinner as guests of District Governor Loren Harper. The Rotary Club has a longstanding tradition of community service and involvement in important issues, and it was an honor to be among this distinguished group of community leaders.
Jean Michel Cousteau's passion for the deep blue see was evident in his remarks, probably a result of his taking his first dive below the surface at age 4. He showed video clips of amazing animals and underwater habitats, along with startling scenes of plastic debris washed up on the shores of one of the uninhabited islands of the Pacific.
Cousteau runs the Ocean Futures Society, which runs educational programs on conservation of the world's oceans and how people can get involved. The Ocean Futures Society runs an annual family camp on Catalina Island, where families spend a week in August learning about the ocean.
During his remarks, Cousteau urged everyone to consider the environmental impact of throwing trash into the ocean and into landfills. Millions of tons of plastic garbage are floating in the Northern Pacific Gyre, in a mass the size of the state of Texas. Cousteau's group and others are working toward cleaning up the mess, but in the meantime, wildlife ingest bits of plastic debris and die from it.
He spoke about the practice of shark finning and showed a video of Chinese fishing boats capturing sharks, cutting off the fins and throwing the shark back into the sea to die. The fins are used in Shark Fin Soup and other delicacies in China and other parts of the world, without regard for the impact on the shark populations. Cousteau noted that sharks have a particularly bad rap, mainly due to Hollywood's portrayal of Great Whites and human-hungry predators. He showed footage of himself diving and catching a ride on the dorsal fin of a Great White.
When asked what ordinary people to could do to preserve the world's oceans, he made a few suggestions:
- Use reusable grocery bags instead of plastic. Americans use about 100 billion plastic shopping bags per year, and many make their way into the ocean, killing and endangering wildlife. 100,000 sea turtles alone are killed every year by ingesting plastic bags. Cousteau asked the audience, "Couldn't you just find one you like and use that one?"
- Eat fish that are farmed or caught responsibly. He mentioned that farmed fish that are natural herbivores have much less impact on the ocean's fish populations than carnivorous fish like salmon. He also noted that there are salmon farms that are adjacent to natural salmon spawning grounds that allow parasites to escape and kill off baby salmon, reducing the wild population. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a Seafood Watch List to help you determine which types of fish are ok to eat and which ones to avoid due to over-fishing or bad farming practices. Click here for their series of downloadable guides.
- Join in efforts to clean up beaches and ocean dumping grounds. He mentioned that there are groups of young people who spend summers in the North Pacific Gyre cleaning up the area, where an estimated 100 million tons of plastic garbage are swirling around.
- Take time to learn about the ocean and its inhabitants.
- Celebrate World Ocean Day on June 8, and find out about activities near you. Cousteau pointed out the big efforts going for Earth Day on April 22, and thought that even bigger events should be planned for Ocean Day, since 70% of the earth is covered by water.
Jean Michel Cousteau is an incredibly energetic and enthralling speaker. It was so nice to be able to meet him after the talk, and Alex got one of our DVD's signed by him (with a cute fish drawn next to his signature. It was a thrill to meet him, and being able to look at the gorgeous California coastline on our way home took on a special meaning. I hope Alex will remember this, and make a lifelong commitment to helping to preserve the world's oceans.