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|Jean-Michel Cousteau, SIMA's 2012 Environmentalist of the Year|
On Aug. 11 the Surf Industry Manufacturers' Association's (SIMA) Waterman's Ball took place at the Ritz Carlton in Dana Point, Calif. Being honored as Waterman of the Year was Shane Dorian, Sean Collins received the lifetime achievement award posthumously, and Jean-Michel Cousteau was hailed as Environmentalist of the Year. The event, a literal who's who of surfing's elite, is a charity function that benefits for environmental organizations. Over the course of the weekend, which also included a charity golf tournament, over $400,000 was raised. In the event's 23rd year, it has now raised over $6.2 million.
"Waterman's Weekend allows SIMA to give back by helping protect the very thing that keeps us in business and keeps us doing what we love," said Paul Naude, SIMA Environmental Fund President and Billabong's President of the Americas.
ESPN Surfing sat down with Environmentalist of the year Jean-Michel Cousteau, eldest son of dive legend Jacques Cousteau. The man is a remarkable storyteller and so very passionate about the work he does, had he been on a boat and not the Ritz I got the feeling we could have talked for hours as we bobbed on toward the horizon, nonetheless, the following are highlights from a 20-minute conversation recorded before the VIP reception.
Can we start by talking about what your organization is?
The Oceans Futures Society, I created it to honor my father's legacy after he passed away. I felt that it was time for me to continue his mission, and to do it in a not-for-profit environment with many of the people that worked with him and me. So we kept going on to bring the message to the public, whether it's communication through television, or more and more, the Internet.
We have a variety of programs, the Ambassador program at a number of Ritz-Carltons around the world, another very successful project out at Catalina, and another called Sustainable Reef, which is sponsored by people that want to help. Usually they adopt a country and reach out to all of the children and teachers there. We have it in American Samoa, British Virgin Islands, and French Polynesia. Recently we have spent a great deal of time in the Amazon rainforest, 20 percent of all the freshwater from all the land masses come out of the Amazon River and into the Atlantic Ocean, we now have the endorsement of the state of Amazonas, to do a sustainable rainforest project, so that's where it's going now.
|Cousteau wore a suit and tie to the Waterman's Ball, but one gets the feeling he's much more comfortable in his underwater attire.|
The third thing we do, which is also education, is to sit down with decision makers, whether it's in the political system or the industrial system, and we show them what's happening to our oceans, with the understanding that these people have short-term obligations -- whether it's to be reelected in four or five years or to show a profit. So with that in mind, these are people that have family and children like everybody else, so as long as you're not challenging them or you're not accusing them or pointing fingers at them, the defense goes away, you have a dialog and you can reach their hearts. And that's what we've been doing, and it has bared fruit in a many places; including several years ago with President Bush when we showed him what we discovered during one of our expeditions to the northern Hawaiian Islands. I was shocked, and he really was too. We found debris and garbage that comes from over 50 different countries floating in the ocean around this one part of the islands, not more than 3,000 miles away from here, where we're talking now. He was so touched that after a meeting at the White House, along with some of his colleges and Mrs. Bush, he declared it a national marine sanctuary, which at the time was the largest piece of ocean protected on the planet. The British have done better since, and just about a month ago the Australian government protected all of the ocean around their country.
So that has to do with being able to sit down, talk, communicate, and reach out and make good sense. So that's what we do at Ocean Futures. We have a membership, it's free because I didn't want children having to ask their parents or something for money, and as a result, the membership is completely private. We cannot sell it or something like that because it is illegal.
Reaching world leaders is one thing, but what can the average, everyday person do to have a direct, visible impact?
If you have a million people pick up five pieces of trash every time they come off the beach, that's tons and tons of material. Every human being, adults and children alike, need to think about the quality of their lives, they need to think about economy, money. If you are going to drive a hybrid car you are going to save money. If you make sure you don't have any leaks at your house, whether it's water or electricity, you save money. If you make sure that you turn off your lights -- I remember as a kid, I had to turn off the lights in my bedroom when I was leaving otherwise I was getting my ass kicked -- well, why? Because my parents wanted to save money. And at the end of the day, all of that helps you, but it also helps the environment because there's less emission of CO2. Everybody can help.
We need to stop having what I call the "Monkey Reflex," where you throw a banana peel over your shoulder. Well, that may help a tree to grow, but your cigarette light, your toothbrush, your mascara, your bottle top, plastic bag or whatever, it's going to effect the environment, it's not going to decompose, it's going to end up in the ocean one way or another, and it's going to kill things, and it's going to effect things, animals in particular. We catch those animals, put them on our plate and then wonder why we are getting sick. And that leads us to not just what you see, but what you don't see, chemicals and heavy metals. Before we didn't know about that, now we do, so more and more we are able to sit down with the people that created those products -- and with good intentions originally -- but we are able to tell them that there are other consequences and they need to be careful. And then they slowly change, or the legislation does. For example, with the fire retardants in children's pajamas. In California it was a law that all children's clothes had to have fire retardants in them, it was illegal not to have them, but now that's changed. There are a lot of toxins that leak into the ocean eventually, and so it's things like that. So, progress is being made. Science is helping on one side. We transcribe that information so that everybody can understand, including our decision makers, and then we try to educate and present it to them. It's about having a dialog, a discussion, and slowly, that's how change happens. There is no question that there are a lot of problems, but I am hopeful about the future.