The Path Ahead: Safeguarding Our Ocean Home

March 1, 2017

The Path Ahead: Safeguarding Our Ocean Home


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In honor of Jean-Michel Cousteau’s lifetime of achievements and exemplary public service in ocean conservation, he was presented with the highest French civilian order of distinction, the Chevalier de la Légion D’Honneur, Knight of the Legion of Honor from the President of France, François Hollande in May 2016. Courtesy French Government

This past year was filled with great hopes – we saw the global world come together to bring the Paris agreement into effect, international organizations take significant steps to conserve the world’s biodiversity, and the expansion of numerous marine protected areas across the planet. Yet we also witnessed the anger and frustrations of people around the world, striving to create a better life while often facing the unrelenting challenges of continued environmental degradation and diminishing natural resources. My team and I at Ocean Futures Society have been working tirelessly to educate and inspire people around the world, to highlight and emphasize the connection that the quality of our lives depends on the quality of our planet.

In 2016, the world witnessed the ratification of the world’s most ambitious international promise – the Paris agreement – signed by over 100 nations, to transition our future away from fossil-fuel power and instead make investments in clean energy technology. Soon after, I was joined alongside prominent scientists and decision makers in Hawaii at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) conference, where new policy measures were adopted to better conserve the world precious, threatened natural resources. I watched in pride as President Obama expanded Hawaii’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, now the largest marine protected area in the world, safeguarding an important natural resource for many generations to come.

But our well-intentioned promises mean nothing if they are not continuously strengthened and enforced. Though the world may have started waking up to the critical state of our environmental resources and their crucial importance to every facet of our lives – our health, our economy, and our quality of life – the path for a better, richer world will only be achieved through our continued vigilance and perseverance. Our planet is still losing its diverse natural wilderness: in the last forty years, we’ve cut down 20 percent of the Amazon – the world’s largest rainforest. Our ocean resources continue to be depleted and exploited faster than the natural world can replenish. And our planet continues to loose its abundance of living creatures and its diversity of species faster than we can even understand their roles on our planet. Though this news is by no means promising, we have every reason to be hopeful. We can still protect and enrich the natural resources we have left on our planet – but we cannot wait any longer.

This past year, I had the honor of traveling to various universities, science centers and corporate events to share my stories and love for the planet and the critical need to protect what remains. I was able to reach out to thousands while traveling aboard the Paul Gauguin cruise ship, speaking about my experiences, knowledge and passion for the undersea world, while also diving alongside cherished guests and friends. And our recent film, Secret Ocean 3D, which was released in 2015, continues to open in theaters around the world, exposing people to the magic and beauty of life beneath the ocean. I was able to attend in person many of the opening screenings events or connecting via Skype calls with students to share with them my hope and excitement for our future. I was also privileged and grateful to able to attend the Cannes Film Festival in France to celebrate the 60th anniversary of my father’s film, “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” and honor his legacy by screening our newest feature length film, “Wonders of the Ocean,” with the same goal of inspiring people to understand and protect what we love.

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On February 20, 2016, a severe category-five tropical cyclone, Winston, battered Fiji. It was the most powerful storm on record to ever hit the Southern Hemisphere. In response to this crisis, Jean-Michel Cousteau and his Ocean Futures Society (OFS) team set up a Fiji Emergency Fund and immediately started collecting funds from family, friends, associates, OFS members and supporters. Photo by: Don Santee, Ocean Futures Society

For islands in the South Pacific, 2016 brought with it the strongest cyclone in recorded history for the southern hemisphere. Cyclone Winston, a category 5 cyclone, slammed into the heart of the island paradise of Fiji, leaving many coastal villages completely destroyed. Immediately, my team and I at Ocean Futures Society set up a Fiji Emergency Fund, raising tens of thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid for the Fijians who lost their homes and communities. We continued to monitor the recovery efforts and supported the Fijians in any way we could. Only a year and half before this catastrophic event, I was joined with world leaders in New Caledonia for Oceania 22 – a Pacific Summit on sustainable development. The timing could not be more pressing. Pacific Island nations are under threat from the growing effects of climate change, ranging from sea level rise, increased storms and cyclones, changes in the distribution of marine species many depend on for food, and even the reality of loosing entire islands to the rising, unrelenting ocean tides.

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With the theme of “The Coastal Frontier,” this year's Old Spanish Days Festival in Santa Barbara served to strengthen the vital connection between the ocean and the areas historical culture. @Coty

The time for action on climate change must move with urgency. Our transition to a clean, renewable energy future must accelerate if we are going to avoid the worst of climate change impacts. I know it can be done. I will never stop sharing my hopes and vision for a better future. As a board member for Green Cross France and Territories and Green Cross International, I continue to bring my concerns for a sustainable planet, a more abundant ocean, and the pressing water crisis facing millions – mostly children – around the world. We are not separate from nature – we need one another to be healthy and strong. For my lifetime of efforts, I was presented with the Environmental Academy Award from the World Business Academy and honored to be the Grand Marshal of Old Spanish Days celebration in Santa Barbara. I am further incredibly humbled to have been awarded the highest French Civilian Order of Distinction, the Chevalier de la Légion D’Honneur, Knight of the Legion of Honor, from President Hollande of France at the Élysées in Paris in May.

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Jean-Michel Cousteau was very touched by the efforts of one individual student, Alexandra, who took it upon herself to raise funds to support the work of OFS. Photo by: Holly Lohuis, Ocean Futures Society

Our hard work does not end here. It must continue not only through my voice, but through all of our voices. I was deeply touched and inspired this year when I met a young nine-year old girl who felt compelled to ask her family and friends to support the marine education and conservation efforts of OFS in lieu of receiving gifts for her 10th birthday. I have so much hope and optimism for the future when I think of the next generation of young people today and their ability to be creative, ambitious, and brave in the face of incoming obstacles. The major environmental degradation issues facing our planet today are immense – but they are not immovable. We must nurture and encourage the next generation of environmental heroes, the leaders of tomorrow who will be stewards of our water planet. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with some of these amazing young minds through visiting Ocean Futures Society ‘Ambassador of the Environment’ programs around the world, an engaging and educational learning program where children can learn valuable lessons from nature and be inspired to create a more sustainable world at home.

Though the challenges ahead are real and daunting – we can overcome any obstacle we face through coming together, raising our voices, and continuing to tell the world and its decision-makers that our quality of life is tied to the quality, health, and strength of our natural world. This planet is our only home, and we must do everything in our power to protect it. When you protect the ocean, you protect yourself.

Warm regards,

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Jean-Michel Cousteau
President, Ocean Futures Society
with Jaclyn Mandoske