Interview with Pierre-Yves Cousteau

12 July 2011 | Article

Pierre-Yves Cousteau, IUCN Goodwill Ambassador, talks about the challenges facing ocean conservation, what’s needed to tackle them, and what it means to team up with IUCN.

What do you see as the greatest challenges facing ocean conservation?

There are many threats to the oceans today including chemical and plastic pollution, radioactive waste, overfishing, run-off from coastal development and deforestation. Climate change and ocean acidification due to excessive carbon dioxide emissions seem to be the greatest challenges today.

If we fail to stabilize and reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide, our oceans will acidify, affecting individual calcarious organisms (such as shrimp, mussels, oysters) up through marine food webs, crippling commercial fisheries and shellfish industries as well as threatening the protein supply and food security of millions of the world’s poorest people.

The oceans produce about half of the oxygen we breathe. We should be grateful for and respectful of the oceans, caring for them as gardeners or stewards. When every citizen of the world feels like a caretaker of the ocean, we will be much closer to finding the answer. Protecting the ocean is not a matter of sentimental compassion or arrogant charity. It is a matter of survival for our species.

"In full truth, we are partners to the fish, the snail, the grasses that grow in secret places beyond our sight. Upon their survival, hangs our own." Jacques-Yves Couteau, 1982.

How can the diving community make the most effective contribution?

There are more than 10 million divers worldwide. Several hundred million if you include snorkelers! Of all the people in the world who enjoy the services provided by the sea, such as fresh air, food, comfort and transportation, we divers are the only ones who appreciate the sea for its beauty! We are the only ones whose interest it is for marine life to remain beautiful.

From this interest comes a tangible market, and protecting marine life becomes an economic drive for tourism. Divers and snorkelers are the only people who actually see beneath the surface of the sea. With the Cousteau Divers programme, we can report our underwater observations online. We can share experiences, images and information between us and other ocean lovers worldwide using social networking tools, revealing both the beauty, and the damage done by careless human activities.

Cousteau Divers act as active agents of marine protection and Cousteau Dive Centres play an important role in monitoring the health of the oceans and creating marine protected areas.

What motivated you to become a Goodwill Ambassador for IUCN?

It is an honour and great pleasure to be appointed as Goodwill Ambassador for IUCN. I believe in cooperation and synergy to make things happen. IUCN, with its scientific expertise and international network can play an important role in reaching out to people worldwide to take action for the environment. I hope that my passion and my father's legacy will be an asset to IUCN in finding solutions for the environmental problems of today and tomorrow.

How can you help raise the profile of marine issues?

It all began with my father's documentaries. Ever since the late 1950s, new documentaries and explorers have emerged worldwide, largely inspired by his vision and achievements. Today, there are countless nature documentaries and NGOs for the conservation of nature. And that's great. Without these millions of often anonymous people working every day for social and environmental causes, our society would collapse. From helping homeless people to protecting endangered species, it is often the grassroots endeavours of hard working, passionate people that saves the day behind the scenes, while governments, industry and companies continue business, and war, as usual.

Ocean acidification has been known to science since roughly the time that facebook was launched. Look at which one has touched more people. Today, with new communication tools that empower every citizen to make his voice heard and act for the environment, the time has come to cross the threshold from awareness to action, and experience proves that entertainment plays a central role in shaping our habits. This is the focus of the Cousteau Divers programme. This is how I hope to help raise the profile of marine issues.