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Legendary Explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau Speaks about our Oceans

Jean-Michel Cousteau speaks at the Future of the Ocean Symposium at Monmouth University. / KEITH J. WOODS/SPECIAL TO THE PRESS

WEST LONG BRANCH -Jean-Michel Cousteau, the legendary explorer, environmentalist, educator, and film producer visited Monmouth University last friday. He spoke in Wilson Hall on a topic of oceanic health, as part of the 7th Annual “Future of the Oceans Symposium,” presented by the Urban Coast Institute.
Despite the huge challenge ahead of us, Cousteau remained hopeful and confidentthat the world’s people can bring about the change we need to save our oceans, and in return, save ourselves.

Cousteau, who was given the National Ocean Champion Award by the UCI, discussed a variety of ocean-related problems, including garbage pollution, oil spills, government regulations, and about marine life as well- including why Great White Sharks don’t deserve such a bad rap (Cousteau even scuba-dived with one, and took a ride on his fin!)
Cousteau’s presentation had a motivational speaker-type feel, as he encouraged everyone to follow their dreams to bring about the change we need.  “He is our conscience,” said Urban Coast Institute director, Tony MacDonald, in his introduction. “He reminds us that the ocean is facing enormous threats, and we need to take personal responsibility.  Cousteau also brings with him the stories to change lives, because we need stories, not just science, to change people’s motivations.”
Cousteau’s educational tour of the past year honors the 100th anniversary of his father, Jacque Yves Cousteau, and honors his philosophy.  “My father used to tell me, ‘People protect what they love,’ and I said, ‘Gee, how can we protect what we don’t understand?’”  Indeed, only about 5% of the ocean has been explored, with new discoveries coming all the time.
“We all depend on the ocean for the quality of our lives,” explained Cousteau, “but we are using it as a sewer.  So many of these toxins, and many of which we don’t see, go right into the ocean.  How much more can it take?”
Jean-Michel Cousteau walks along one of the most remote beaches on Laysan Island, in Northwestern Hawaii, which is littered for miles with all kinds of man-made debris. Photo courtesy of: Nan Marr
Cousteau continued with a story about the islands of North-West Hawaii and the far-reaching impact of human actions.   Thousands of miles from main lands, the islands of Northern Hawaii are covered in trash; lighters, toys, electronics, glass bottles, including items that haven’t been manufactured since the 60s.   At least 52 different countries were represented by means of their debris on the island.
Wildlife including the endangered monk seals, sea turtles, and albatross live and die alongside our debris.  The Albatross, a bird species who has been considered the poster-child for preventing plastic debris from entering the ocean, is often found dead with dozens of pieces of plastic in its stomach.  The birds fly around to find food for their babies, which they then regurgitate into the mouths of their young.  Thousands and thousands of young birds have been found dead with about a dozen pieces of plastic in their stomachs.
A Laysan albatross chick carcass shows a gut containing a toothbrush, a cigarette lighter, and a pencil. Photo courtesy of: Holly Lohuis
“You might toss a lighter over your shoulder onto the ground and think, ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ but that is not the case,” Cousteau reminded the audience.  “Next time it rains it’s going to find its way into streams and rivers, eventually to the gulf and the ocean.”
Another ocean catastrophe that Cousteau urged the world to remember is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf that occurred last year.  “The media may have moved on long ago, but we can’t get away from all of this…by saying the oil spill is over is unfair.  Baby dolphins are still being found dead, whose mothers were breast feeding in the oil.  But this is just what we see- what about what we don’t see?”
Cousteau mentioned visiting the site of the Exxon-Valdez spill, and said that if you dig a foot under the soil, you will find oil.  “It’s still there, over two decades later.  Like that spill, we can expect the consequences of the gulf to continue for much longer.”
Fortunately, scientists are looking into many types of alternative energy, and not just wind and solar.  “There is so much more than that, and that’s what so exciting.”   Currently, there are studies investigating the energy potential of algae, microbes, waste products, and much more.
Cousteau, whose confidence in mankind never seemed to falter, believes we are living in “an extraordinary time.”  Certainly, this is the time of the communication revolution. “We can share a message with anyone, anywhere on the planet. We are all connected.”  These tools are key to positive environmental change.  “We need to be conscious of the issues that need to be approached, but with these tools, I believe we can do it.”
For more information, visit Coustea’s non-profit advocacy organization, Ocean Future’s Society, and get involved to save our seas.