As people flooded through the doors into the Springfield College fieldhouse, the hundreds of inexpensive folding chairs began to fill, the stage shrouded in maroon. With light jazz filling the background, bodies both young and old sat eagerly awaiting the arrival of environmental advocates Fabien and Celine Cousteau, grandchildren of renowned aquatic explorer Jacques Cousteau.
The event took place at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 24 as part of the College’s Arts and Humanities Speaker series and featured talks in which the Cousteau siblings discussed current issues present in the Earth’s oceans and on land.
The first to speak was Fabien Cousteau, the older of the two siblings. Fabien graduated from Boston University, with a degree in environmental economics. Along with embarking on many expeditions and dives with his grandfather at a young age, Fabien has continued his love for adventure and exploration by embarking on his own aquatic journeys.
Fabien explained in his opening remarks how even though the Earth’s oceans contain virtually all known life, researchers have explored less than five percent of the ocean world. The reasoning for this, Fabien explained, is that the ocean represents the vast majority of Earth’s living space.
“The ocean and the water bodies on this planet represent 99 percent of our world’s living space,” he said.
Using this statistic, Fabien explained that most people only think about Earth’s oceans covering a surface of the planet, when in reality and on a three-dimensional level, there is more space throughout the oceans in terms of depth then there is space on land.
From this point, Fabien moved on to his next topic, the current plastic crisis in oceans. He explained that nearly 50 percent of all sea life in supermarkets and restaurants is laden with micro plastics.
After discussing manners in which plastic is misused by society daily, Fabien began to discuss his experience on Mission 31, a 31-day underwater research adventure in which he, along with five other scientists, lived in the underwater research base Aquarius. Fabien discussed how on this expedition he and his team were able to complete three years’ worth of scientific research in only 31 days, and because the underwater research base was equipped with Wi-Fi, Fabien was able to video-chat with over 100,000 students and educate them on aquatic life throughout the entire process.
Fabien concluded his time by providing insight to the future of our planet by sharing a quote from his grandfather Jacques: “For most of history, man has had to fight nature in order to survive. Today, in order to survive, we are now starting to understand that we must protect it.” With that quote, Fabien’s time concluded, as he introduced his younger sister to the audience.
Celine Cousteau graduated from Skidmore College where she majored in psychology with a minor in studio art. Like her brother, Celine has embarked on many journeys with her father and grandfather and has been diving in the oceans since a very young age.
Celine began her time with a few statistics that left the audience in shock, stating that over 70 percent of deep-sea fish have ingested plastic and by the year 2050, there will be more plastic than fish present in the oceans.
Celine began to discuss “ghost ships,” which are large vessels that stay on the oceans for up to a year at a time and catch thousands of fish which are then distributed to retailers. Celine then went on to describe how most of the work done on these ships is slave labor.
From this, she began to discuss her journeys to the Amazon and the issues plaguing the beauty of the rainforest. An example that Celine used frequently throughout her presentation was simply asking the audience to take five deep breaths. The symbolism behind this act was present when Celine began to describe how the Amazon rainforest accounts for nearly 20 percent of oxygen that living things breathe, or every fifth breath taken.
Celine began to discuss her work in the Amazon and her new independent documentary, Tribes on the Edge, which tells the stories of native Amazonian tribes and how they have dealt with the environmental issues surrounding their land. Celine described her passion for solving environmental issues, stating “I wear a fin on one foot and a hiking boot on the other.”
After Celine’s closing remarks, the Cousteau’s were met with thunderous applause from the audience in great appreciation for the duo’s insight and hope for the future.
Upon the discussion’s conclusion, the typical “post-event” chatter erupted from the crowd with a general sense of pleasure among audience-members. Springfield College’s own Bob Gruber, Professor of environmental ethics and philosophy, stated that the presentation was “a good way of starting a discussion” about the environment. Gruber went on to say, “It’s good to have an event that gets the whole campus together and hopefully people keep talking.”
Cait Kemp, a freshman in the communications/sports journalism major, agreed that, “The topic was a very important one to share.” Kemp then stated that the “statistics are scary, and to see and to hear it all, it definitely makes me want to see more action being taken.”
The Cousteau presentation addressed many important issues present in the world today, and also provided valuable insight to the future of the planet if people do not make a change in their daily lives. The Cousteau siblings managed to express their knowledge in a way that demonstrated the dangers of plastics in the oceans, as well as ways in which people can make a change in their everyday lives, which has the potential to leave a lasting impact on the Springfield College campus between students and faculty alike, and inspire them to make a change in the world.
Photo Courtesy Springfield College Marketing & Communications