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Cousteau Inspires Community to Care for Environment

The final Open Visions Forum at Fairfield University featured Celine Cousteau, granddaughter of legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau, in a stimulating talk about environmental stewardship.

Exploring the natural world is in Celine Cousteau’s blood. As granddaughter of legendary adventurer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau, and daughter of ocean-explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, she honors her family’s legacy by filming documentaries about the Amazon, glaciers in Antarctica and even anacondas to raise awareness and empower her audiences to connect with the greater world.

In this season’s final “Open Visions Forum” at Fairfield University, “People and the Natural World: An Exploration of Connections,” Cousteau’s message was to take actions that benefit the environment. She urged those gathered Monday night at Fairfield’s Quick Center for the Arts to “get involved.”

Cousteau said, “The most important thing is to follow through. Don’t just believe in something. Do something about it. Take an action. I hope you can find some way to connect back to the environment.”

Screening excerpts from documentaries she filmed during expeditions to exotic places, Cousteau offered compelling visual images that succinctly captured nature’s abundant beauty. She described seeing the underwater iceberg in the Antarctica as “magical,” especially given that it was part of a glacier that was thousands of years old.

Having the opportunity “to look humpback whales in the eye” while filming in Hawaii was another “magical and amazing experience,” Cousteau noted.

During her discussion, Cousteau also described being able to get close to an anaconda and adult pumas and two baby puma cubs during filming.  She pointed out, though, that her team always relies on assistance from local experts. Before filming begins, they make themselves familiar with the subject’s habits, lifestyle, and so on. When they are ready for filming, Cousteau and her partners are mindful of respecting the subject’s space, she added.  

Philip Eliasoph, Ph.D., professor of visual and performing arts, and director of the Open Visions Forum at Fairfield University, described Cousteau as “fearless” during his opening comments. Cousteau disagreed and countered by saying that it’s learning as much as she could about her subjects that allows her to produce the documentaries and photographs.

Humorously recounting the hours spent on her belly, crawling closer to the puma family in a non-threatening manner, Cousteau also noted that she also keenly aware of when it’s time “to go.” She regaled the audience with the time she and a fellow photographer crept closer and closer, doing what was called “the puma crawl,” to film the baby puma cubs and its parents. However, when they realized that two of the four pumas had skittishly run away and were gone for some time, she said, “That was time to do our ‘puma crawl’ backwards and get out of there.”  

Another obvious highlight of Cousteau’s career was an underwater adventure resulting in her team rescuing a whale in distress. The large mammal was caught in a heavy net and swimming around the Chilean waters when Cousteau’s team stumbled upon it. For hours, the divers patiently cut away the netting. When the whale was finally free, and the divers resurfaced, Cousteau said that they were all “crying and laughing at the same time."

She added, “All of us were expert divers but none of us had ever trained to rescue a whale before.”

Acknowledging that her family’s experiences gleaned many unique opportunities to explore the natural world, Cousteau insisted that the lessons learned from her stories could be applied to “your own backyard.”  

Following Cousteau’s formal presentation, Eliasoph was joined onstage by his colleagues, Fairfield University professors Dina Franceschi, Ph.D., and Brian Walker, Ph.D.

When asked by Franceschi how the community could make an immediate impact on their environment, Cousteau said that she eats local, organic and seasonal foods. She also only consumes sustainable seafood.

To conserve energy, Cousteau regularly “unplugs everything” if she knows she will be gone for two or more days. “Don’t underestimate the impact of your individual actions,” she stated.

However, Cousteau also noted that on a national level, there needs to changes made to the United States’ environmental policies and new legislation has to be strictly enforced.

Noting that several countries — Switzerland, Germany and Holland — have already come on board as “environmental stewards,” Cousteau said that developing countries would have to “take the lead.”

In response to Franceschi’s question about what to say to “climate change critics,” Cousteau said, “It’s here. It’s a fact. Whether you believe that human have impacted it or not shouldn’t be the point. Our children and grandchildren are going to have to deal with it. If we could mitigate the changes, we should.”

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