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Q&A: Jean-Michel Cousteau – The Need for Ocean Conservation

Q&A: Jean-Michel Cousteau – The  Need for Ocean Conservation
From left: Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Nancy Marr, chief marketing officer Fiji Airways Marc Cavaliere, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, executive general manager, Fiji Link and group corporate, international and government affairs of Fiji Airways Shaenaz Voss, and Jean-Michel Cousteau at the PM’s office in Suva on August 10, 2017. Photo: Fiji Airways
August 11
11:12 2017

World famous French explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau is in the country to discuss ideas with the Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, on the conservation of our oceans.

Mr Cousteau founded the Ocean Futures Society in 1999 – a not-for-profit marine conservation society that spreads awareness on the importance of protecting marine life across the globe.

His documentary ‘Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures Voyage to Kure’ inspired President George W Bush to declare the north-western Hawaiian Islands a 1200 mile protected marine area.

As a child, Mr Cousteau developed a strong connection with the ocean and has since spent most of his life educating the world on its importance to the human race.

His go-to method for disseminating information comes through the production of over 70 films and various publications including books and newspaper columns.

In an interview with the Fiji Sun, we spoke to Mr Cousteau about his ideas to protect the ocean and the role he will play in assisting Fiji’s presidency at COP23 [23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)] from November 6 to 17, in Bonn, Germany.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q: When did you start havinga personal interest in the ocean?

Cousteau: “I would say when I was a kid. Thanks to my late father we were, with my late mother, in the ocean all the time. When I was five years old, I had a mask and I was always in the ocean looking. Then at the age of seven, I had a tank on my back, there was no regulation in those days. Today, you have to be 10 years old to be certified. I’ve never stopped diving since. For me, it’s excitement all the time and when people ask me what my best dive was, I tell them, the next one.

Q: As a world-renowned ocean’s champion, how important do you think it is for Fiji to lead COP23?

Cousteau: “I was so excited when I found out Fiji had been selected to lead COP23. I have spent 29 years in Fiji; I’ve been coming and coming and coming, two to three times a year to dive all over the place. It’s one of the best diving destinations anywhere in the planet. I call it “The Capital of the Soft Coral” and I feel very privileged here because there’s not a very huge population and there are a lot of people who are becoming very concerned about the protection of the environment. I think the fact that Fiji has been selected to lead the Climate Change Conference is very, very exciting and I’m here to help.”

Q: What is your message to the people who think addressing climate change shouldn’t be a priority for Fiji?

Cousteau: “I think they should realise that climate change – the emission of excessive carbon dioxide – affects the ocean temperature, causes ocean acidification and affects a lot of the creatures in the ocean. These are the creatures that we normally catch to eat; creatures we use to feed ourselves. People should feel concerned for their own quality of life with what grows in the backyard. The good news about Fiji is that there are over 300 islands and a lot of places are protected. We need to make sure that it’s not invaded by other nations that are coming in to abuse the system at the expense of the Fijians – the fishing industry has the tendency to do that. We need to be very careful about that in Fiji. For me, Fiji is the most diverse and protected part of the ocean. The advantage of all of this has to do with the presence of Fijians. Fijians are not aggressive people; they are not people who want to abuse the system.

“We need to help people learn to restore the quality of the environment in other parts of the world, which we can do as long as the species don’t disappear. When you lose a species, you are weakening the whole system. Diversity is synonymous with stability. We need to protect all species, whether on land or in the sea.”

Q: You just had a meeting with the Honourable Prime Minister, and Attorney-General. What are some of the ideas and suggestions you’ll be sharing with our Government?

Cousteau: “Well, the Prime Minister, who is the president of COP23, was very open-minded to listen to what we had to offer with Ocean Futures (Society) and I think we will be able to help. He knows we are there to assist him and if he wants to give me a responsibility to assist him with COP23 in Germany, I’ll be glad to do it. I love Fiji and I personally believe we have a unique opportunity to show the rest of the planet that Fiji can be duplicated in many parts of the globe. The Prime Minister was very open-minded and I’m there to help him.”

Q: What is the Ocean Futures Society’s Mission?

Cousteau: “We created Ocean Futures Society to honour my father and the society is doing three things; One – keep producing images that you can share with people with all over the planet, whether it’s television or feature film or IMAX it doesn’t matter; Two – education, education, education – reaching out to millions of children, who are the decision-makers of tomorrow and they will be making much better decisions than I have made when I was a kid; Number three – diplomacy – reaching the heart of the civil makers in industry and government.

“I understand there are obligations which are based on the present, whether to be re-elected or to make a profit; I understand that. But they have families; they have children, and if you can, make them understand that what they do needs to be done in a sustainable way and make the bridge with the future generations. A lot of people understand and do that. I have had the privilege of having a dialogue with President George W Bush who, after seeing the film I did on north-western Hawaiian Islands, created the largest marine protected area in The United States. And last year, US President, Barack Obama, decided to go and see the protected area and when he returned, he multiplied the area by four times.”

Q: Do you have any plans to produce one of your feature films or documentary in Fiji?

Cousteau: “I’d love to, absolutely. I need a budget. Fiji Airways can maybe raise some money through some of their connections or people they know – we are ready to help to try and protect this unique part of the world.”

Q: What is the biggest threat the ocean faces today?

Cousteau: “That’s us. Humans. That is why education is critical and that’s why sitting down with decision-makers may stabilise the situation and restore the future.

“We need to communicate. My father used to say ‘people protect what they love’ and I’ve been saying: how can you protect what you don’t understand. By being able to communicate through our educational programme, we pass it on to the young people, the decision-makers of tomorrow, and they will make much better decisions and that’s why we have been involved in Fiji for many years with our programme ‘Ambassador of the Environment’, which we are now expanding at the resort that bears my name.

“I am not the owner. We are a not-for profit organisation and little money is given to our organisation for the use of the name. As long as my colleagues are coming from an educational and environmental point of view of sharing information with decision-makers locally on how to protect the resort environment and make it as efficient as possible, with the understanding of the economic necessities, they can use my name.”

Q: What role can countries like Fiji and airlines like Fiji Airways play in creating global awareness about ocean health and conservation?

Cousteau: “Passing on the message. A lot of people haven’t even heard of Fiji, or they think it’s a tiny island somewhere when it’s huge. Over 300 islands on huge water territory and we need to pass that information to the people. It’s an amazing way of reaching people away from Fiji in territories that have problems of their own. I think the people who travel are the ones who can make a difference.

Marc Cavaliere, Chief Marketing Officer Fiji Airways said: “I think today is a very good example of exactly how Fiji Airways can get involved and this is why, through our affiliation with Ocean Futures Society and our partnership with Jean-Michel Crousteau, we are able to help collectively spread this message.

“We’re out here in the middle of the South Pacific but because of experts such as Jean-Michel, we are able now, with the Prime Minister as president of COP23, to take that message to the world. And it’s very important to the airline as well to show how we are critically focused on taking care of helping spread the word and also to show the rest of the world that Fiji is here and how Fiji represents what is affecting so many parts of the world regardless of size.”

Q: Have we reached a point of no return or do we still have hope?

Cousteau: “If I didn’t have hope I wouldn’t be sitting here. I would be sitting somewhere – maybe in Fiji – to enjoy the rest of my life but I couldn’t even look in the mirror and say, ‘this is not my problem. Protect the ocean and you protect yourself’.”

Edited by Naisa Koroi

Feedback:  sheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

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