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Q&A: Philippe Cousteau Jr.
Underwater explorers Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his son Philippe captivated audiences with their pioneering documentaries on marine life. Philippe Jr., 29, is filling his predecessors’ flippers as co-host of the Discovery Channel/BBC-TV series Oceans and cofounder of EarthEcho International, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit. This generation’s ocean advocate spoke recently about the powerful environmental force behind youth activism and new media.
Audubon: You and your sister, Alexandra, founded EarthEcho in 2000. What’s its mission?
Cousteau: To empower extraordinary leaders to take action to protect and restore our oceans. Oceans are a primary source of oxygen, a source of protein for up to two billion people, and they regulate our climate—which, in turn, regulates most of our water supply. They’re the critical life-support system of this planet but get way too little attention.
What’s the biggest environmental threat to oceans?
The output of carbon into the atmosphere, which is causing both ocean acidification and climate change.
How does EarthEcho prepare kids to tackle those problems?
Our program, Leadership Ocean, is working with existing youth organizations and developing learning opportunities to identify a small number of the brightest kids and help add the environment—and specifically oceans—to their set of knowledge. One strategy we use is peer modeling, so we’re also targeting pop culture heroes to be advocates for these issues. We’ve partnered with the Vans Warped Tour, America’s longest-running, most successful concert tour, and we’ll be expanding to include extreme-sports events.
Kids are so tech-savvy these days. Does new media play a role in environmental outreach?
It plays a huge role. EarthEcho recently completed a project with the American Film Institute’s Digital Content Laboratory to learn how to distribute our content through a new media platform. The goal is to engage people in pro-environmental behavior and track that behavior. A major component of our program is streaming live video on cell phones. Outlets like the Internet and Facebook provide the opportunity for dialogue. There’s still strength in traditional media, but it’s enhanced by the digital media that exists today.
What do you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
My grandfather and my father touched so many people. I’ve thought about this a lot, especially doing expeditions in many places they visited that have undergone massive changes in the last 50 years—such as the Mediterranean Sea, where there are rubble-strewn places that used to have coral and now have algae everywhere and no fish. I think that all I could hope for would be that people look back and say, “What he did was worthy of the legacy that his father and grandfather left behind.”
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