Alexandra Cousteau, the Ocean Ambassador (Podcast)



"We all live downstream from one another," says Alexandra Cousteau. In other words, what we do to the water, we do to ourselves. A third-generation Cousteau explorer, Alexandra is an ambassador of the sea. She's the host of Planet Green's Blue August, is currently traveling the world as a documentarian with her organization Blue Legacy, and, when she has a spare moment, does things like climb Kilimanjaro with Kenna. Alexandra Cousteau speaks with TreeHugger Radio about water conservation, the legacy of the gulf spill, and how she takes steps in her own life to protect the seas.

Listen to the podcast of this interview via iTunes, or just click here to listen, right-click to download.

(Full text after the jump)TreeHugger: For you, what are the most concerning water issues right now?

Alexandra Cousteau: I spent many, many years working in the field, living in different countries, working on ocean conservation issues. And a critical thing that I noticed is that there is a real disconnect about how we understand our water resources. We forget that we live on a planet where the water cycle drives this life cycle that we're all a part of, and we forget how interconnected our water resources are.

So all of my work, and this expedition that we're on--13,500 miles across North America--is really about starting conversations. It's one thing to make a film, but it's another thing to make a conversation that ties people to water and to the resources that they have in their own communities.

TreeHugger: What's an example of a face-to-face conversation that illuminates the issue of water in people's lives?

Cousteau: We're doing it in two ways. All along the journey that we've set up, we're telling some really key water stories that are global in scope, but that are happening in our own backyards along some of our own iconic waterways. We're looking at the issue of water management. We just finished a month on the Colorado River going from the headwaters all the way down to where the delta has dried up and the river no longer meets the sea; looking at why rivers need to actually connect with the ocean.

Then we'll be looking at water systems that really control the quality and quantity of the water that we have available to us for our cities, for our farms, and for our fisheries.

As I said, it's one thing to make films. We're making short films that are concise and that are tied to other great resources online. We have a network of media partners, and we're hoping that people will be able to experience this. People want to be part of adventure and part of expeditions.

This whole idea of experiential environmentalism is something that we are trying to create online through social media and social networks, actually giving people an opportunity to participate as we go through this month-long journey looking at water issues.

But we're also taking those issues to communities and helping put a spotlight on local water heroes, local water conservation organizations, listening to people's stories and having these conversations with them and giving them an opportunity to tell us what their concerns are.

I've had the opportunity to talk with little seven-year-old girls who will spend all weekend with their lemonade stand in their neighborhood trying to raise money to send to other school-age children in other parts of the world that don't have access to water so that they can bring water to those schoolgirls.

We also meet with older people who have had a lifetime of understanding how they interact with water and how important water is to their community. There's actually a couple that we met with in Minneapolis who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by planting rain gardens for all of their neighbors so that the runoff from their community wouldn't impact the creek that ran through their neighborhood.

There are wonderful stories, and I feel very fortunate to not only have an opportunity to investigate these issues in North America, but actually talk to local people who are working to conserve what they have, because I think that therein lies our greatest hope for solutions.

TreeHugger: You've been all over the world to spotlight these issues. Why North America and not someplace more "exotic?"

Cousteau: Over the last year, we spent 100 days traveling across the world. We crossed five continents. We looked at water in all sorts of different environments. We were in Australia, in Cambodia, in Botswana, in the Middle East. Right here in the United States, actually, we were in Louisiana just over a year ago, looking at a dead zone the size of New Jersey, thinking it was the worst-case scenario (now we know differently). But we realized that we also need to tell those same stories that are happening in our own backyards, here in North America. We have a tendency to think that water is an issue that impacts people over there, and it's actually impacting people here.

This is why we've launched a very ambitious project. I have a crew of 12 filmmakers with me from Australia and France and Peru and Canada, and here from the United States. We're editing all of our pieces, so our stories roll out as we experience them, through blogs and photos and these short videos.

We send them out through these social networks, and again, the point is really to give people an opportunity to have conversations about these issues and understand that the water coming out of a tap is water that fell on a mountain and went into a river through snowmelt. That river flowed across the landscape and fed cities and fed farmlands and eventually, hopefully, made it to the sea where it created estuaries that provide nursery for fisheries and livelihoods, and restock the oceans.

These are the stories that we're telling, and we're getting ready to tell stories about our impact on our water resources through the ways of our carbon culture, and we'll be telling that here in Louisiana, where I am now, and through Alabama and Florida and up into Tennessee.

TreeHugger: How much of the devastation of the Gulf of Mexico have you actually been able to see with your own eyes?

Cousteau: Well, quite a bit. Unfortunately, there's a lot to see down here. My brother, Philippe, and I came down a couple months ago towards the beginning to get a sense of what was happening. It was really an investigation for me of just what was going on and revisiting some of the communities that I met with last year, some of the fishermen and local representatives and people who own restaurants and parents of children who can't go into the water and play in the ocean anymore.

It was really very eye-opening, and I think that the issues that put all of this into play started a long time ago. I think we're paying the price of too many years of not paying attention to how these decisions are made and how public risk is assessed. So we had this terrible accident.

The most frightening thing for me, really, is how it's a big chemistry experiment. After the Exxon Valdez disaster, not enough money was invested in innovating solutions to prevent this kind of accident from happening. There is also not enough investment or innovation into looking at how to clean something like this up. So this happens and everybody is scrambling for ideas, for solutions, for trying to figure out how it will impact the Gulf of Mexico.

Last year we were looking at the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that was the size of New Jersey, which was crippling for such a huge part of this vibrant and productive ocean environments. And today it is exponentially worse.

I don't think anyone has a really clear sense of what's going to happen or how to fix it, or what the inter-generational impacts will be--though I definitely believe there will be inter-generational impacts that will be felt for decades to come, and I'm scared. If we learn anything from this, I hope it's that we need to invest in better technologies for deep-sea drilling, if that is something we choose to continue doing as a community. We need to really think hard about these decisions.

We need to be a part of the decision-making process. We need our voices to be heard. We need to be a part of how we assess these risks that we take so that we have this energy that our society needs. We need to think very seriously about alternative energy sources and investing in those. I think it is time for us to really take a close look on how we do things and to really start to think about doing things differently.

Tags: Blue August | Coal | Cousteau | Gulf Oil Spill | Oceans | Oil Spill | Rivers | TreeHugger Radio | Water Conservation

2014 Gift Guide

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK