Philippe Cousteau Jr. thinks the earth got stuck with a lousy marketing department — and he’s determined to spruce up its image. Like his grandfather, the late, legendary French naval officer and ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, and his dad, the late videographer, cinematographer and oceanographer Philippe Cousteau Sr., this third-generation adventurer is a storyteller, explorer and passionate conservationist. He’s also president of the nonprofit environmental education organization EarthEcho International, and he’s made it his mission to bring the stories of our natural world to a wider audience — and with a little more pizzazz than in the past.
“The word ‘environmentalist’ carries so much baggage,” says the 27-year-old Cousteau. “Our message about the environment has to be engaging and fun and funny — and exciting and sexy. People don’t relate to information, they relate to people and stories. We are storytellers, because that’s the first step in getting people to change their behavior. We’re about inspiring action.”
Cousteau and his sister, Alexandra, 31, founded Earth-Echo seven years ago. He was drawn to his family’s vocation, he says, less because of his famous legacy and more because of his natural passion for the subject. “I was always interested in anthropology and communications and the environment,” explains Cousteau, who earned a master’s degree in history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Plus, he adds impishly, “What’s better than being able to explore [the world] and go on crazy expeditions and hopefully inspire people to make a positive difference along the way?”
Cousteau was recently named chief ocean correspondent for Discovery’s Animal Planet, and he is producing a series of documentaries for Public Radio International’s Living on Earth program (www.loe.org). He also co-hosted the Animal Planet’s documentary Ocean’s Deadliest with the late crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin. Cousteau was at the scene when Irwin was killed during filming, and he agreed to complete the project as a tribute to Irwin and his life’s work in conservation.
But Cousteau is determined to take his message about Earth’s threatened ecosystems — in particular, its fragile and increasingly damaged oceans — beyond television and other traditional media to video games, the Internet and in-flight entertainment. EarthEcho has partnered with a video-game developer to build an interactive adventure ride that will take people on a virtual undersea expedition. And the organization is talking with a digital development company about creating portable interactive content.
These new media could bring more attention to the oceans’ plight, which Cousteau says is too often overlooked. “The ocean is often out of sight, out of mind,” he notes. “Deep-sea trolling [fishing trawlers dragging large nets across the ocean floor] is like clearing an entire forest to catch a single pheasant. But it’s at the bottom of the ocean, so nobody sees it. If we went into an unprotected wild area on land and did the same thing, people would be up in arms. Lack of visibility is a big barrier to people understanding [the oceans’ value and vulnerability].”
Cousteau points out that ocean conservation efforts have never been as well promoted as space travel, for example. “The space industry has done a very good job at marketing themselves,” he says. “NASA is fantastic. They’ve had the benefit of pop culture: Star Trek was the best marketing NASA never had to pay for. Yet the idea that space is the ‘final frontier’ is such a fabrication. Only 5 percent of the world’s oceans have been explored. People think it’s all been seen here on Earth, but it hasn’t.”
While Cousteau is busy exploring the remaining 95 percent of our oceans — and getting others engaged with his cause — he makes time for fun, too. He’s an avid snowboarder and rock climber. “I love being outdoors, and I love the physical, mental and spiritual challenges those activities provide,” he says. He particularly enjoys the thrills of boarding. “You can pop tricks and jumps on a snowboard and just have a great time. And,” he adds, “I just love going fast.”
Which is good, since he’s back at top speed this spring shooting a new six-part documentary series called Spring Watch USA for Animal Planet audiences, helping EarthEcho mount a series of expeditions around the world, and collaborating with the BBC and Discovery on several television projects. It’s all in a day’s work for this tireless earth-and-ocean advocate. And it’s an effort, Cousteau asserts, that deserves as broad an audience as he can rally. “The ocean binds all of us; it touches us wherever we are.”
To learn more about Philippe Cousteau Jr. and his work, visit www.earthecho.org.
Neither Philippe Cousteau Jr. nor EarthEcho International is affiliated with the Cousteau Society.
Laine Bergeson is a senior editor with Experience Life.