Exclusive Q&A with Céline
Céline Cousteau is onboard with Contiki as our Sustainability Partner to help us educate Contiki travellers and our team about environmental issues. Read on as we speak to Céline in an exclusive interview on ocean conservation and what we can all do to make a difference.
Contiki: You were just 9 years old when you took your first expedition with your grandfather, Jacques Cousteau, in the Amazon, on his legendary Calypso boat. Having recently celebrated his 100th birthday anniversary, what would you reflect you’ve learned most from him?
Céline: The learning came from being part of a family of travellers, filmmakers, explorers, and photographers who would each bring back their stories from the field. Of course, there is a lot in terms of what I learned, but the heart of it is that I really understood from early on that my existence was only a small part of a greater whole. Through my mother’s photographs and my grandfather’s films I explored faraway places and people and of course got the behind the scenes stories as well. In the end, and this was the goal of the event I created for his 100th anniversary, it is more about what one does with this learning that makes a difference. Each of us has the capacity to do more and we owe it to ourselves and those around us to reach for our full potential when given the opportunity to do so. I believe this is what would have made my grandfather feel he had accomplished part of his mission.
Contiki: So you are passionate about our oceans – what is it exactly you love so much about them?
Céline: The ocean is such a wondrous universe and it is right under our noses- we don’t have to get on a space shuttle to see it firsthand. Because I have had the tremendous opportunity to explore the underwater world and be a part of many discussions about its health, I have become aware of the importance of protecting it. Many people might not think beyond the surface of the water and we desperately need more people out there to help communicate and educate others about the importance of this ecosystem. But everything I hope for in relation to our oceans is also applicable on land. In the midst of this, paramount to all places, there are people who depend on a healthy and balanced natural world. We are those people.
Contiki: What do you think is the single biggest issue threatening our oceans today?
Céline: There are many issues and a lot of them are intertwined such as climate change and ocean acidification. However, to give one example of something very tangible, overfishing. We are taking out a lot of species from the ocean in unsustainable quantities and with harmful fishing practices. One of the consequences of this is that we are losing our resources and in the end this means we won’t have the option anymore of counting on that resource. In turn, this impacts the natural food chain of the ocean that naturally exists in a healthy balance, thereby other species will be impacted along the food chain. When we speak of harmful fishing practices we can imagine that trawling for shrimp for example, potentially brings in more by-catch (fish that will not be used) into the nets than shrimp, not to mention the damage that is done to the ocean floor. The by-catch is thrown overboard as wasted resources. Not to fear – we don’t have to stop eating everything! There are numerous fish guides that exist to help us make better choices when we are ordering or buying fish, like www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/download.aspx (also comes as a phone app and www.blueocean.org/seafood/seafood-guide.
And this is the important bit, the part that requires us to take action. We need to educate ourselves to make these better choices in all facets of our lives. In the end, we will benefit too.
Contiki: What do you think is the coolest creature in the ocean and why?
Céline: There is no single one cool creature- you just have to stick your head underwater to see there are many. To choose one I could say the octopus- so beautiful and intelligent. It is observant, a master of the quick change, adapting it’s colour to its surroundings. It is a marine Houdini that it can fit into the tiniest holes and crevices. Quite fun to observe! Another fascinating animal is the shark - any one of them. It is the optimum predator of the ocean and keeps the ecosystem clean of diseased and dying fish. Often misrepresented, the shark is a beautiful and majestic creature, gliding effortlessly through the blue waters.
Contiki: What do you feel has been your biggest achievement to date in the conservation world?
Céline: When I hear a student tell me they have been inspired by a talk I gave at their university - it is a wonderful sense of accomplishment. My hope is they are able to follow through with that inspiration to whatever goal it is they set for themselves. Also, when I am told one of the short documentaries I created about a non-profit has motivated someone to help that non-profit, it gives me energy to find the funding to create the next one.
Contiki: Most people’s brains can’t encompass the idea of saving the entire planet – we think ‘I’m just one person.’ Will switching from bottled water to filtered tap water really make a difference in the large scheme of things?
Céline: One person won’t save the planet but that should not be overwhelming. As the old saying goes and can be adapted to taking care of our planet, “it takes a community to raise a child”. It is not by merely changing to tap water that we will impact all things negative that are happening- it is by incorporating changes in all aspects of our lives and empowering others around us to do the same. Ghandi stated: “be the change you want see in the world” - why look any further. It is now time to move to action. These small changes need to happen in parallel with is our efforts to influence world leaders that have the power to implement environmental protection laws.
Contiki: What are your thoughts about the work of the MAR Leadership Program and Oceana, the 2 causes Contiki supports?
Céline: What immediately interested me about the MAR Leadership program is the work they are doing with local individuals, teaching and empowering them to become agents of change in their own backyard. You will find no greater advocate than those on site because they have a long lasting and vested interest in the future of that place. As for Oceana, it is a well-established organization with top scientists conducting research to provide us with the most accurate information we can use to make assessments and plans about the state of our oceans. Because it is a worldwide organization, they also have the weight to impact change on a higher level, educating policy makers to create important laws protecting our ocean systems.
Contiki: In your opinion, what are some of the best websites out there if readers want to learn more about ocean advocacy?
Céline: There are many website but you can start learning by taking a look at the work non-profits are doing with oceans: The Nature Conservancy, The Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, Sea Web, World Resources Institute, Conservational International, and many smaller organizations working locally.
Contiki: What’s your favorite travel destination and why?
Céline: One of the places that immediately come to mind is the Amazon and this is because of the incredible experiences I had while working on various projects there. It is a place I will always treasure and strive to protect for I have also developed connections to people who live there and strive to protect their backyard much as we strive to protect our own. The difference in scale is perhaps obvious but at the heart of their struggle is their own well-being and health. It is a place that has given me great perspective in my own life.