Jean-Michel Cousteau at EarthX Mexico

December 13, 2018
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Jean-Michel Cousteau's November 9, 2018 speech at EarthX in Mexico.

First, allow me to step back in time for a moment. Mexico has been a special place for the Cousteau family for many decades. In this country, we have found noble people who love nature, especially those whose indigenous roots extend to the first settlers of this continent.

In 1975, our cameras captured wonderful scenes in Isabella, Nayarit, shown in our documentary The Island of the Birds. This island was declared a National Park in 1980. Also, in 1975, our documentary The Sleeping Sharks of Yucatan, reveals a mystery told to my father, Jacques, -­‐or JYC, as we all called him, -­‐ by our friend, the late, great Mexican diver, Ramón Bravo. It was JYC who, astonished by the enormous wealth of life in the Sea of Cortez, called it: The Best Aquarium of the World. There is no doubt; we have a special relationship with Mexico.

It was here that we agreed to participate for the first time as an environmental organization in a great challenge. This was an immense task requiring the supervision and evaluation for the Master Plan for the Tourist and Ecological Development of the Coasts of Nayarit. This ambitious plan was considered nationally, as well as internationally, a unique example of collaboration for the environment. In addition, in 1989, we had offered the collaboration for a national campaign, focused on ecological education using our illustrated comics. The adventures were designed to incorporate Mexican local folks including especially the children. The proposal seemed to have interested the government and the business community.

Mexico would learn how to protect its environment, before allowing the construction of mega developments like those that have emerged and continue to rise in many parts of the planet overcrowding the coasts.

As natural resources around the world become overburdened by the expansion of the human population, sustainable resource management becomes crucial. Not only are these resources declining rapidly, but the biosphere also changes in ways that can profoundly affect the habitability of the planet.
Development plans should start with an understanding of the effects on the ecosystem and incorporate provisions to ensure a sustainable future for that system.


Nayarit was emerging as the ideal place to put into practice the knowledge that our group experienced during decades of oceanic explorations all over the world. In 1989, the government of the state of Nayarit contacted our offices in Los Angeles and spoke with our Representative for Latin America, Rubén D. Arvizu, who is now the General Director for Latin America of Ocean Futures Society. They wanted to know if the Cousteau team could contribute to a long-­‐term management plan for the coastal area of the state.

The development of neighboring Puerto Vallarta was invading Nayarit and pressures were growing from inside and outside of Mexico for mega-­‐scale tourism projects along the coast. The developers looked north to the state of Nayarit, whose coast was relatively intact and offered more than what had initially attracted people to Puerto Vallarta. A plan was necessary to be implemented before it was too late. The coast of Nayarit is an amazing mosaic of remarkable geographical diversity and exceptional natural beauty.

Sleepy towns and villages dot the coast, home to fishermen and locals since antiquity. That was the scenario in 1990 when the initial management plan was presented to us. The information was to be obtained by a group of more than 150 Mexican scientists and technicians. The land environment and marine resources of Nayarit were in relatively healthy conditions and it was imperative to preserve them. Part of our work was to increase ecological awareness to people and the government. Our final objective would be to promote the proper management of the coastal resources of Nayarit.

I remember very well the ceremony of June 4, 1990, to sign the document of the environmental management plan. We met in a great room of the wonderful Museum of Anthropology, here in Mexico City. A beautiful parchment showed the official stamps of the State of Nayarit, the Cousteau organization and the names of those who signed, including Governor Celso Delgado. In addition, special guests joined as witnesses signing the document, including Julio García, Chief of the Cora Indians. One of our main recommendations was the respect and protection of the rights of the native people living on the coast, and the fishermen, who in a reasonable manner and for many generations have obtained the wealth of the sea.


After three years of hard work and multiple visits to Nayarit, and reviewing a large number of studies conducted by the Mexican scientists and technicians, the recommendations and suggestions for the master plan were handed over to the government of the then president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
Once again, another ceremony, this time in Guayabitos, Nayarit, where more photos was taken with great statements to the press and media. After a cordial goodbye, it took us less than a year to start receiving complaints at our offices in Los Angeles. The people of Nayarit thought they had been robbed and cheated by the new provisions, and in some of these complaints, they accused us of being in collusion with the government and the developers. What made things worse, was that the Mexican government officially stated that our organization in Mexico was receiving large funds for its activities in the country.

This, I had to deny publicly in the international press that there was NO office in Mexico of our organization and we don't accept money from governments. In this case, we were paid for the work we did in Nayarit, for which we hired experts from universities in the United States, such as the Wetlands of Florida. A few days later, an official note from the Mexican government was published clarifying that the government of Nayarit would use those funds to continue their studies. Despite all of these obstacles, our presence in Mexico continues to this day.

In 2016, our Director General for Latin America, Mr. Arvizu, was invited by environmental groups from Nayarit to participate in an International Conference on Islands together with Dr. Arturo Izurieta, director of the Darwin Museum of the Galapagos Islands. Prior to the conference, Rubén conducted a series of investigations in places nearby, filming scenes with the help of students from the film school of the University of Guadalajara. During the conference, he showed some of those images and pointed out the dangerous state of the beaches and rivers, such as the Ameca, which in the 90s was almost free of pollution.

High officials of the government of Nayarit, present at the conference, were very annoyed and accused Rubén of exaggerating and misinforming the public. On the following day, former Governor Celso Delgado made a statement to the press in defense of Ruben, assuring the public that the information was accurate.

And now, let's go to another story, the vaquita marina. This gentle porpoise, unique in the world and only found in the waters of the Sea of Cortez, is on the verge of extinction. On April 22, 1992, my father and I along with President Salinas signed an agreement to implement a Rescue Plan and Sustainable Management for the Sea of Cortez. The ceremony was at the official headquarters of Los Pinos attended by the majority of the Secretaries of the Government. That year, we estimated that there were approximately 600 vaquitas left and that they continued to die due to incidental capture due to the use of inadequate nets and the overfishing of the totoaba fish. The extensive investigations for the Sea of Cortez were sponsored by us and made by the renowned marine biologist H.T. Odum and several of his colleagues. They evaluated the natural resources, sustainability and rational exploitation of this important body of water.

The plan offered economic alternatives for fishermen in the upper Gulf of California, such as eco-­‐tourism. As in the case of Nayarit, neither this economic plan nor the educational cartoon was ever implemented.

We are aware that many scientists have continued to make their best efforts to solve the vaquita facing extinction, it is a very complex problem: social, political and even national security. This includes the illegal fishing of totoaba, a very coveted fish in Asia that is also in danger of extinction.

The totoaba is nicknamed the "cocaine of the sea" due to its enormous value. In China, they pay more than $ 60,000 dollars for a kilo of their swim bladders since it is believed, falsely, that they possess magical sexual powers. The participation of the drug cartel in the smuggling of totoaba to China has been increasing in recent years with the collusion of certain authorities, not only from Mexico but also from the United States. San Francisco is the port of exit to the markets mainly in China, where authorities are not interested in solving this problem.

In a recent documentary by the young reporter Sebastian Maussan, he followed with his cameras for several days the Narval ship of the Whale Museum. This is part of the current research on the vaquita that since 2017 has been carried out by Dr. Lorenzo Rojas and a group of leading scientists, including Dr. Conal David True, who has dedicated more than 20 years to the study of totoaba. Ex-­‐totoaba fishers have left their lucrative business thanks to the teachings of the Museum of the Whale and in painful and long working days, are collaborating with the scientists on board by removing "ghost nets" that are careless tossed and become deadly traps for the vaquita.

A couple of times several locals told reporters. "What you do is useless, because the vaquita marina does not exist."
But the vaquita refuses to die, and in a small ray of hope, it has been reported, a couple of weeks ago, sightings of a couple and their offspring. We cannot lower our guard; we cannot allow their extinction.


But, not all is bad news. Every day we see a greater participation of civil society, mostly young people, including children and their teachers, who are aware of the terrible danger they face with the looting of their common home. They do not want to hear the discouraging phrase, "They use to be bees, lions, birds, fish, lakes, and rivers, but there is no more for you or your brothers." They are demanding a change. They are making us aware of this chaotic situation caused by our consumer society.

In 2014, on the beautiful island of Cozumel, I placed on the sea floor, a bust of my father; a smiling Cousteau created by a talented local artist and good friend, Laura Hoyo. It was a moving ceremony in which many divers joined me.

(42) In Cozumel, we have a local presence through our friend, a biologist and dive master, Rodrigo Navarro, who offers conferences carrying our message of conservation and protection. In addition, he visits schools in the area giving talks to enthusiastic children and offers them free diving lessons, thus making them Ambassadors of the Environment.

This mission also has the support of another good environmental, the archaeologist and speleologist diver, Sergio Grosjean. With a dedicated team of volunteers, they clean the wonderful cenotes that are constantly covered in garbage and pollutants. With the help of the local children and people, he is very active with the reforestation of areas in the state of Yucatan.

Fortunately, these actions are also multiplied in other places in the Yucatan peninsula, with the work and guidance of another great diver and explorer of National Geographic, Guillermo de Anda, who combines his underwater archeology filming with cenotes rescue work motivating and educating young people and communities.

We need action now to stop the damage to all life on this Planet.

And these actions are happening in other places such as Cancun and in the resort of Huatulco, Oaxaca. In Huatulco, teachers, children, and individuals with an ecological awareness have undertaken radio campaigns for the protection of turtles and against the use of plastic that is endangering the very existence of life in the oceans.

Ocean Futures continues to act enthusiastically in Latin America supporting citizen's complaints and denounces, stopping ecocides, giving lectures in a wide variety of forums and publishing books and articles.

The UN panel of experts on climate change (IPCC) told us a few weeks ago that there are only a few years left to reverse its effects. When my father was asked if there was hope, he answered: "If I use only my brain, there is no hope, but when I use my heart and my love for humanity and all life on this Planet, then I believe there is still hope."

We, humans, are causing the deterioration of the environment by our bad choices. We can change this. Changing the consumption pattern of natural resources such as water, soil and fossil energies. Stop polluting by discontinuing the use of plastics. There is no doubt we can reverse this and there is still time,…little, but we can do it.

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I would like to conclude with these final thoughts. Let us remember our "warriors" for the environment and human rights. Like Chico Mendes, the defender of Amazonia with whom I had the opportunity to meet in Amazonia a few days before his assassination on December 22, 1988.

I want to express my respect and admiration to all the brave environmentalists and journalists who have lost and continue to lose their lives in Mexico, Latin America and other parts of the World. They struggle for what is honest and just, to defend Human Rights and our beautiful Blue Planet against the forces that only believe in power, selfishness, and greed. Today, we are here with an extended hand, hoping to collaborate in protecting the environment and treasures of Mexico.

Thank you very much.

—Jean-Michel Cousteau, President, Ocean Futures Society