Breakfast with Pierre-Yves Cousteau
I had the pleasure of meeting Pierre-Yves Cousteau during his trip to The Bahamas in 2011 to promote and educate on shark conservation. He came to Grand Bahama with a senior associate of the PEW Environment Group, and two members of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) based in Nassau. He was visiting the Bahamas to show his support for the BNT’s campaign to strengthen the protection of sharks in The Bahamas, and he gave a public talk at Trust's Rand Nature Center on January 10th. We met for breakfast the morning he was to head back to Paris where he lives and I had the pleasant opportunity to pick his brain.
Pierre-Yves Cousteau is the youngest son of famed oceanographer and environmentalist Jacques Cousteau. I recall many memories from my childhood sitting in front of the TV watching documentaries on the underworld of the sea, all thanks to such a man as Cousteau. He certainly broadened our knowledge of the wet world below.
Cousteau speaks with a clear, almost full American accent, and when I questioned him on his near extinct French accent, he told me that it was due to attending an American school in France for the first part of his life. Pierre-Yves has a striking resemblance to his father, and although many believe him to be the grandson, due to his young age of 29, he is indeed the son of Jacques.
"My father was 72 years old when I was born," he said. "My father created the Cousteau Society in 1973," started Pierre, "to not only protect life on earth, and in the seas, but so his work would continue after his death. He nominated my mother as the president of that organization, and today my mother and I are the only two Cousteaus working in the Society. The other Cousteaus are still involved with the environment, but not directly affiliated with my father's society."
Aside from wanting to continue his father's legacy, when asked what he was personally passionate about, Pierre replied, "I love the oceans, and I want children to grow up in a world where they can enjoy it as I have and do. When we live in a beautiful environment, it contributes to making and keeping a better world, and ultimately it makes for better people."
"I am personally involved in a program called Cousteau Divers that I created about a year ago with the permission of the Cousteau Society. The program uses affiliated dive centers and ocean scientists (the divers) as observers of the ocean. So people helping out study and protect the environment on a daily basis. Most of the people involved in this program are citizen scientists They love diving and while they are doing a sport they love they are also contributing to the betterment of the oceans."
"I am here in The Bahamas because I was asked by the Bahamas National Trust and the PEW Environment Group to advocate for their shark protection program. When I learned about this program I was very excited. The Bahamas is a beautiful place to create a national sanctuary for sharks. I hope that the work that we've been doing to raise awareness to Bahamians, educating about the importance of sharks in our waters for balancing the ecosystem; and the importance of sharks for tourism, that the Bahamas will move to protect their waters for sharks. I hope that they will take this serious and therefore set the example, for the world, when it comes to making the right decision when it comes to environmental issues. It will safeguard a lot of the country's economic assets at the same time in terms of fisheries and tourism. I hope they make this decision before it is too late."
When asked 'If you had the opportunity to talk to the government, or even the Prime Minister of The Bahamas, what would you say,' Pierre-Yves replied, "I would ask the Prime Minister to move on the new legislation that is being proposed and make it happen. I know that the Bahamas National Trust is already drafting a Cabinet paper. I would ask for him to please review it with his Ministers and make it happen. There is no reason not to do this. It is a no-brainer. It's good for tourism, it's good for the economy, and of course for the commercial fisheries and the environment. When speaking with a fisherman, they will tell you, 'a place without sharks, is a place without fish'. Sharks are important for a healthy environment."
I next asked Cousteau if there was anything in The Bahamas during his stay that surprised him in regard to sharks, perhaps something he learned that he did not know before.
"Yes, I met with a young girl named Candice Woon here in Freeport and she really blew my mind in terms of sharks. She showed me her science project on sharks, and told me that she had originally been afraid of sharks, and that fear took her to research sharks and understand them better. Her fear turned into a beautiful comprehensive science project, and I learned a lot looking at her project and poster. There were some things about sharks that I did not know, and she explained them to me," said Cousteau.
"Young Candice is a good example of the need for our youth to be educated about the environment so that future generations can enjoy sharks. I want people to be able to say, 'Let's go see the sharks' and not, ' let's go see a movie about sharks'," he said.
The conversation turned again to his father who came to The Bahamas many times. "Ever since I was born, my father would come to The Bahamas every year. He loved this country. In the late 60s or early 70s he was here shooting a film on the blue holes in Andros. After I was born, I went every year with him."
Cousteau spoke about the importance of Bahamians supporting the Bahamas National Trust. "They are good people, well informed, and not only do they strive to keep the land and the sea areas beautiful and clean, they now have this new imitative to protect the sharks and to make The Bahamas a shark sanctuary. I ask everyone to support this campaign and visit the Trust to sign the petition. And like Candice Woon has taught us, if you are afraid of sharks, go out and learn about them."
When asked if he personally had the power to change anything on the planet to improve it, Cousteau said there were two things he would do: 1). stabilize the world's population and ensure every country had its needs met to sustain itself; and 2). assist in the transition of new energies. "If we keep using up the fossil fuels we will acidify the oceans. It's time to let science take over instead of continuing to run it by economic interest," he said. "There is nothing we can't do. We are a smart species."
Cousteau also spoke on the throw away / plastic generation that we've become and how that must be addressed and reduced.
"The Bahamas has the largest resource for shark science by its unique ecosystem and can be the example for the world if they can protect this oasis of life that they have here. I hope it will become a part of their culture to protect the environment," said Cousteau.
Robbin Whachell is a writer, publicist, journalist, and the co-founder and editor of TheBahamasWeekly.com. Robbin now lives in Coquitlam, B.C., Canada and is the mother of four children.