WASHINGTON, DC -- Legendary aquanaut and veteran ocean scientist Dr. Sylvia Earle this week traveled quite literally between meetings on the sea floor off Florida and at the U. S. State Department in Washington.
Her trek connected her late friend Jacques-Yves Cousteau's two grandsons, independently continuing their grandfather's life work, promoting love for the the sea and its inhabitants while inspiring their protection.
Dr, Earle's first visit was to Fabien Cousteau, son of Captain Cousteau's surviving elder son, Jean-Michel Cousteau, whose Santa Barbara, CA based nonprofit Ocean Futures Society is an education and scientific organization in the tradition of the "family business."
Still diving after all these years, Dr. Earle (who turns eighty next year), donned her scuba gear to get to their recent meeting and wide-ranging conversation about the many challenges confronting the ocean, and us!
Fabien was, and is at present, nine miles off the Florida coast, living and working sixty feet underwater. Now!
This Cousteau grandson is leading a team of college scientists and dive professionals on his Mission 31 expedition, a thirty-one day "saturation dive" in the Aquarius underwater lab, a sea floor habitat in the Florida Keys National Marine Preserve, amid coral reefs and surrounded by fish.
It's a "Cousteau thing."
Fabian, who is 47, aims to break his grandfather's thirty day record for living underwater, established in the Conshelf II undersea habitat expedition, which Captain Cousteau himself led and filmed in 1963 for his popular television series, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.
Unlike in his grandfather's day, we don't have to wait for the next Undersea World show to share in a Cousteau expedition. Life in the Aquarius "human aquarium" is being live-streamed for Mission 31.
No? See for yourself! Fabian and his Mission 31 team have thirteen days to go.
Click this link and become a voyeur Cousteau diver right now!
(Don't worry; they know you're watching.)
The Age of Aquarius?
The Aquarius sea floor lab is operated by Florida International University. And it is the last such undersea habitat still functioning. On the planet!
Seventy percent of Planet Earth is mostly unexplored. Yes, that would be the ocean. But we have spacemen, (well they're from Earth actually), at present orbiting us in the International Space Station.
Down here? It's Fabien and his friends, in Aquarius.
That's it! "Secretary Kerry... Phone Aquarius?"
Oh, and send money! They're college kids, right?
And we could summon another memory from Baby Boomer times: "It's the Age of Aquarius." Not the song, but the persistent threat that OUR remaining undersea habitat and research facility might soon be closed!
This represents an infrastructure deficit inhibiting ocean science research needed to better measure and understand ecological risks which many scientists, including Dr. Earle, believe are growing rapidly worse!
Yet budgets for field research by universities and government agencies like NOAA have shrunk and are projected to constrict even more, just at a time when Secretary Kerry and President Obama are saying they want to promote more environmental science and protective policies.
What's wrong with this picture?
NOAA scientists with whom we spoke as recently as Monday, and who prefer to remain unidentified for obvious reasons, say they're mostly "chained to their desks" instead of being out in the field doing their thing, just when administration officials say they want to rely on "more science, good science." Uh, oh!
It is a disconnect not going unnoticed, especially with renewed calls this week to protect "Our Ocean," the title of a major ocean policy conference here, raising alarms and calling for international agenda setting.
Increasing awareness, and promoting enthusiasm for such scientific adventuring among the upcoming genration, is a major element of Mission 31's objectives, according to Fabien Cousteau's online information.
Check that out, here: http://mission-31.com/about-mission-31/research-education/
Dr. Earle, a former Chief Scientist of the U. S. National Oceanic and Amospheric Administration (NOAA) and herself an aquanaut and marine scientist for more than half a century, knows of what she speaks... and of what she's warning us.
In her low-key, kindly professorial manner characteristic of this soft-spoken ocean explorer and scholar, she engaged Fabien in a submerged conversation about the necessities and priorities for ocean protection.
"Battle Stations" on Spaceship Earth?
Threats to oceanic ecosystems, and human civilization itself, Dr. Earle contends, arise from declines in ocean health resulting from: overfishing and rapacious fishing methods; unchecked and accumulating marine pollution and trash; and increasing acidification of seawater, contributing to coral reef die-offs.
There's more, and it's neither new nor surprising to those of us long engaged in such concerns.
But that "We've seen this movie before," decades ago, and that another generation of Cousteau Cousins must answer to their family's legacy and try to motivate us into effective, collective and collaborative action, is problematic and somewhat disheartening to us "older folks."
Hearing Sylvia Earle's wisdom and perspective, melded with Fabien Cousteau's honesty and clarity of thinking about these topics, is what bubbled up from their "Aquarian" conversation merely a week ago.
Their thirty-three minute exchange is well worth a viewing and a listen, and is available here. You do not have anything better to do with a half hour of your life than watch and listen to this, the sooner the better!
But all is not lost, "Resistance is (not) futile," and the travels of Sylvia Earle did not end at Aquarius!
Into a "Sea of Politics?"
Dr. Earle surfaced and then landed here in Washington, attending the global ocean summit organized and sponsored by our Secretary of State, who claims he aims to renew public focus on ocean ecosystems while encouraging assembled heads of state, diplomats, scientists and business leaders to take action.
"Our Ocean" was nearly submerged, in terms of news coverage, by Iraq's spinning out of control and the capture of one of the accused Benghazi terrorist leaders. But State Department officials and their boss promise a series of future gatherings to update data and measure progress promoting action agendas.
Whether or not their political intentions and commensurate political will are sustainable, the passionate enthusiasm of yet another Cousteau grandson is demonstrably genuine, feels effective and stands as a challenge, albeit respectfully, to Secretary Kerry, national officials and policy "thought leaders" promising oceanic efforts.
Philippe Cousteau, Jr., is that other grandson of the late famed ocean explorer. He is, in turn, the son of Captain Cousteau's younger son, Philippe, who died in a plane crash in June, 1979, six months before Philippe, Jr. was born.
Much of this grandson's training, as a diver and environmental tactician, was conducted by key members of his late father's expedition team, as well as his mother, Jan, also an expedition participant. Philippe is ready!
Young Philippe, 34, has become, as has cousin Fabien, an ocean adventurer and advocate for the sea, with his own nonprofit, Earth Echo International, and a new commercial consulting venture as well.
Philippe's role at "Our Ocean" was to help Secretary Kerry kick off the conference.
He did it with a brief video retrospective of his grandfather's earlier undersea explorations, then echoed Captain Cousteau's warnings to the world about worsening threats to the ocean's ecological health, urging aggressive agendas to save it.
The Captain would be sad such warnings are still required, and urgently so. Yet he would be proud, of both of his grandsons. Those of us challenged and fortunate enough to work with "JYC" know how he would feel.
But there remains a "down side" to the resurgence of the Cousteau name and its mission to Planet Earth.
Sinking 'Calypso' but not her Spirit?
Fabien's and Philippe's respective nonprofit ventures and activities are independent of one another, owing in part to long-standing rifts in their parents' generation and strict legal restrictions placed on them by Captain Cousteau's second wife, Francine.
Based in France, Captain Cousteau's former mistress gained full control of his "official legacy" and use of his famous "brand." She is promoting her own son, Pierre-Yves Cousteau, 32, as the rightful heir to the famous ocean explorer's legacy, to little effect in the United States and rarely noticeable impact elsewhere, sadly. In fairness, he's making an effort: http://www.cousteaudivers.org/
Jean-Michel Cousteau, the actual reigning patriarch of the Cousteau clan, has been nothing if not gracious to his father's other children, Pierre-Yves and his sister, Diane, as evidenced at his Ocean Futures website: http://www.oceanfutures.org/about/cousteau-family/extended-family
In terms of the Cousteau legacy and its effectiveness, the family fratricide has been nearly devastating.
Francine has essentially shut down The Cousteau Society, once the fourth largest environmental group in the United States, at its high point with 225,000 dues-paying members and film contracts with PBS, Ted Turner and worldwide television audiences upwards of a billion.
The Cousteau Society still exists, but as a shadow of its former self. The aged research vessel, Calypso, remains in a long limbo between sporadic efforts to repair and refloat the ship and calls to bury her at sea.
But rather than letting short-sighted jealousies impede them, the Cousteau Cousins are following in the Captain's "wake," charting their own courses toward his philosophy while adventuring on their own to learn and share the sea's lessons, propelled by their own creative enthusiasm as much as family traditions.
Their parents prepared them very well to carry on, even if separately. For now. Maybe one day together?
Embodying the spirit of Calypso, which transported not only Cousteau and his teams but carried many of us who eagerly watched their programs along in spirit, both Fabien and Philippe continue to develop their independent statures, appealing to and beginning to help lead a new, younger generation into action.
Each grandson has a sister, Celine is Fabien's and Alexandra is Philippe's, who are themselves active in carrying out their grandfather's legacy, multiplying Cousteau's legend while modernizing it. They are lovely, entrepreneurial and gifted futuristic women, again of whom Captain Cousteau would be justifiably proud.
Creating new messages for new media, the Cousteau Cousins are reaching out to this new generation, many of whom do not remember Captain Cousteau or his explorations as he shared undersea discoveries during the latter half of the previous century with us, their parents and grandparents.
Cousteau's legacy lives!
Sylvia Earle, however, not only remembers, she was there!
A long-time friend and sometimes colleague of the Cousteau family, that she was not a keynoter at Kerry's "Our Ocean" is likely an oversight, certainly not a slight, State Department officials have assured.
Still, Dr. Earle made several salient and crucial observations during the State Department's conference, echoing what she so recently had shared with Fabien Cousteau at their underwater tete-a-tete in Aquarius, immersed in their element, beneath the sea.
This week she herself was honored by the National Geographic Society, where she has been an Explorer In Residence for decades.
Last night she premiered a documentary about her work and her latest project, Mission Blue, an effort to promote and develop marine protected areas, which Dr. Earle calls "Hope Spots," around the world.
That video has recently reportedly been sold to Netflix, which is slated to release it in August.
But you may learn more about it and the Mission Blue / Sylvia Earle Alliance (including more about her recent visit to Aquarius), at this link: http://mission-blue.org/
Meanwhile, in this age of instant communications around a wired world, readers are again invited to do some exploring of their own.
Visit the Aquarius - Mission 31 team, and check out their web site, where you can Tweet, Facebook and otherwise join in a conversation bubbling up from the depths of the sea to the whole Earth around.
If we don't support such efforts, we may have a whole world to lose, or at least its habitability for ourselves.
If we join up with these young people, and help them to defend our planet, we'll have only an ocean to gain!
Over... and out! Dive... dive... dive!
Mission 31 Control Hub: http://mission-31.com/nokia/