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"We need to rebuild the lost abundance of our ocean and restore that life because that life is critical."

At the Websummit in Lisbon we speak with ocean conservationist Alexandra Cousteau about her new initiative OCEAN 2050.

You were just on stage here at Websummit talking about your initiative Ocean 2050. In a nutshell – what is it about?


It started in our head when we were reading about this horrible prediction that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean which is for me an unimaginable thing because in my family it goes back to the 1950s when my grandfather first started to explore the oceans and started revealing those oceans to the world.


The images he took of those oceans where those of abundance and diversity and richness and the whole world fell in love with it and felt this wonder and awe about the ocean that they were discovering for the first time.


By the time my father was an adult and working with my grandfather on expeditions in the 60s and 70s he started to realize a huge change and started to develop what has become known as a conservation ethic which is the idea that we should protect what we have before it is gone. And this has intrinsic value and value for our society and our lives and our hearts. And that conservation ethic has brought us to where we are today. And we have fought some battles and had really good initiatives and have done important work – but it is insufficient. And at the core is that the idea of protecting what you have so you don’t loose it is just not engaging people enough. “We’ve got it, so there is no urgency.” There is a shifting base line and we loose it little by little but nobody notices how quickly it is going and new generations are coming to world and they can’t imagine what it was like before.

There is that increasing panic. We live in a world that focuses a lot on fear and anger and division. That’s just where we are right now but one thing we can all agree on is that we want a better world for our children. And I’ve seen this over and again in the US whether I was talking to audiences in red states they have the same desire for their children as the blue states. We put money aside for our children to have the best education but what are we doing to protect the natural environment upon which their health and their future prosperity depends. And restoring that is something that feels good to us because we can see progress. Maybe, just maybe we have lost enough to feel the urgency to restoring what we lost because just protecting what is left is not sufficient. That is the idea behind OCEAN 2050 and we are actively looking at what solutions are available.


You mentioned Canada as an example and blueprint for legislations that have been put in place. What can we learn from them?


I work closely with Oceana, the largest non-profit in the world dedicated exclusively to the oceans. What we are doing with Oceana is a project called ‘Save The Oceans, Feed The World.’ The idea behind that is that if we want to stop overfishing – and 90% of overfishing is done by 28 countries plus the EU. It’s not 120 countries that we have to change – it’s 28 countries plus the EU and the EU has the global fishing policy. So if we can impact policy so that we have science based fishing quota, we expand our marinas, protect our marinas and reduce bycatch we can restore fish populations.


And we need to understand that all is not lost, the future is not written, we are headed in a direction that feels bad and is quite scary – but there is still time to change the outcome. That doesn’t mean we gonna have the same oceans that my grandfather had – that’s gone in my opinion – but we can have an alternative future that is abundant and feels us with wonder and awe, that can feed 9 billion people, that can ensure food security and nutrition and a thriving tourism industry where people can experience the ocean.


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone diving and have seen one terrified fish hiding a dead corner. People always ask me if I go diving all the timing but it actually makes me feel really depressed about the state of our ocean so I skip it – but we should restore that. It’s not going to be easy, but it is possible. And that’s what we need to focus on. It’s not about being optimistic or pessimistic. Optimism is about ‘everything is gonna be fine, I don’t need to do anything’ – and pessimism is ‘we are all screwed, there is nothing I can do’. We need to have this active hope that we can change things and that we need to be part of that change to make it happen. That is active hope and that is where we need to go. We need to center ourselves there because that feels empowering and purposeful and that is where we feel as individuals – no matter who we are or where we are – can have the greatest impact.         

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A National Geographic Emerging Explorer, Filmmaker and globally recognized advocate on water issues, Alexandra Cousteau continues the legacy of her renowned grandfather, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and her father, Philippe Cousteau, Sr. She has mastered the remarkable storytelling tradition handed down to her and has the unique ability to inspire audiences on the weighty issues of policy, politics and action.  Alexandra is dedicated to advocating the importance of rebuilding abundance in our oceans in order to restore a healthy planet. Her global initiatives seek to inspire and empower individuals to protect not only the ocean and its inhabitants, but also the human communities that rely on freshwater resources.


In May 2018, Alexandra received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Clarkson University. In 2016, Alexandra received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Georgetown University, her alma mater. She works closely with Oceana as a Senior Advisor to help propel their important work on oceans to an ever larger audience through expeditions, events and advocacy.

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