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Thursday, April 14, 2011 03:21 pm

Cousteau son brings concern for oceans to Midwest

Jean-Michel Cousteau
Jean-Michel Cousteau was 7 years old when his father outfitted him and his 4 - year-old brother, Philippe, with an aqualung air tank, before their dad, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, threw them over the side of the boat.

“We were instant scuba divers,” says Cousteau, 72, to a crowded auditorium April 10 at the Kirkland Fine Arts Center at Millikin University in Decatur.     

“Sometimes I would take my mouthpiece out and my Dad would put it back in,” he said in an earlier interview with Illinois Times. “We were in like a zoo, seeing new things all the time — new fish, new plants, crustaceans — it was absolutely fascinating,” he says. But it didn’t take him long before he began to see “less and less fish and more and more garbage.”

Cousteau used clips from a DVD to show footage of items like mascara and cigarette lighters washed up on the shores of beaches all over the world. He described finding some of the same items lodged inside of the bodies of birds because the mothers bring them back to their nests to regurgitate them into the mouths of their young. Part of his mission is to bring people to an understanding of the ocean. “How can you protect something you don’t understand?” he said in an interview.

Cousteau has dived to 240 feet, and was one of the first to dive near the Gulf Oil Spill in April 2010 that spread oil from the coasts of Louisiana to Florida. He is currently working on a film about the environmental disaster to be released soon.

Cousteau also showed footage of his late father, with whom he says he was very close, and emphasized that everyone has a connection to the ocean.

“When you drink a glass of water, you’re drinking the ocean,” says Cousteau. “Next time you have snow here, you’re skiing on the ocean.”

Cousteau has taken up the cause of his father, to promote education and conservation of the world’s oceans through “Ocean Futures Society,” an organization he formed in 1999.

He likes to point out that his dad, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, would often let him skip classes during grade school to go scuba diving on the southern coast of France, where his family lived.      

But it is the legacy of his father and of a family concerned about the ocean that brought out many to see Cousteau’s presentation.     

 “I’m a pastor,” says Ted Marrinan, 56. “And what we learned today is going to show up in sermons the next couple of months.”

Watching Cousteau’s presentation brought Marrinan, a former scuba diver, back to a time where he had dived 100 feet below the surface at a marine reserve off the coast of Florida and found a Coca-Cola can inside of a cave. The sight of a consumer product below the ocean surface was unacceptable.

“I applaud what [Cousteau] is doing. There’s a lot more education that needs to be done. There’s a lot more processing that needs to be done,” he said.

Others like Decatur resident John Dunn agreed.

“We need to think globally and act locally,” says Dunn, who served in the Illinois House from 1975 to 1995. The former legislator came to the Millikin University lecture out of a “fascination with the Cousteau family” and asked Cousteau about the rising of ocean levels and melting polar ice caps. Cousteau attributes the shrinking glaciers a mixture of cool and warming temperatures caused by carbon dioxide emissions from human activity.

“We are responsible for the assimilation of the climate change, which means what?” he says. “Which means that we will bear the consequences.”

 To learn more about Ocean Futures Society, go online at www.oceanfutures.org.  

Contact Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@illinoistimes.com.
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