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Oceana Magazine Summer 2012: Q&A: Alexandra Cousteau

The granddaughter of famed ocean explorer and filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Alexandra Cousteau doesn’t take her family legacy lightly. She spends her days advocating for ocean and water conservation around the world. Oceana welcomed her as a senior advisor to the  organization in February, a role she will juggle along with many others, including being a mother to her baby daughter Clémentine. Besides lending her expertise to Oceana, Alexandra is a National Geographic Explorer, founder of Blue Legacy International, and brand ambassador for Oceana expedition partner Revo Sunglasses. She spoke with Oceana editor Emily Fisher.

Tell me about your family’s history with the oceans.

Clearly my family has a long history with the oceans. It’s hard to tell my story without talking about my grandfather because it’s a multi-generational continuation of what he started. He spent years imagining the aqualung, finally co-inventing the regulator with Emile Gagnan in 1942. And it hasn’t evolved that much (since then) – the technology is incredibly simple. It allowed him to pull back the curtain on 70 percent of the planet that up until that point nobody could have imagined. My grandfather was really the first to tell stories about what’s there and help people understand it.

What’s your earliest ocean memory?

My first dive was when I was seven. My grandfather took me in the Med off the coast of Nice. He had fashioned a small scuba  set for me, a little mask and a little tank with rubber suspenders and what seemed like a huge regulator on my small face. I was hesitant at first because I didn’t understand the technology; breathing underwater was just counter-intuitive. Before I had a chance to protest, he looked down at me, gave me a wink and pushed me in. I took a few tentative breaths and as soon as I saw that it worked I started swimming down, I was so excited. I found myself surrounded by these small silver fish which were swimming in unison in a circle around me.

How have you seen the oceans change since you were growing up?

I spent a lot of time in the south of France as a child and most of those places are dead zones now. You don’t see the same fish that I grew up with, or the size of the fish has changed. I also spent some time in Maui as a child. I would spend eight hours a day in the tide pools. They were perfect tide pools for a child; they were like individual little aquariums. I went a few years ago and it was just covered in slime. These places are slowly disappearing.

Our generation is in so many ways the last generation to be able to restore some of these places or protect them from disappearing. And that is where I see a shift from what my father and grandfather were doing to what we need to do. I fear that for my daughter’s generation, the ones being born now, it will be too late to restore some of these places. We are running out of time.

What do you think is the most important aspect of ocean conservation today?

Community activation – we need to get people involved and we need to give them a sense that what they do matters, that they can make a positive difference and impact on these issues and their life will be better because of it.

We fail to realize that our oceans start in our backyards. They start in the rivers and creeks and streams and lakes that are in our communities, so we are all connected to the oceans, and the oceans are the key life support system of the planet. Sohelping people understand that, I think, is the most important thing. My family showed us what’s there but it’s up to all of us to protect it before it’s gone.