Marine Explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau on Healing the Ocean to Heal Ourselves

The World's Largest Life Support System

Ocean explorer Jean-Michel and Celine Cousteau will speak Monday night at UCSB's Campbell Hall.

The Central Coast has a legacy of environmentalism, especially when it comes to issues that affect the ocean. Most famously, the Santa Barbara Channel oil spill of 1969 galvanized the modern environmental movement.

Santa Barbara again made national news last month when the County Board of Supervisors voted to urge California’s governor to lift a moratorium on offshore drilling in the interest of accessing a source of revenue and energy. Among the many who protest the board’s decision is ocean explorer, filmmaker, and educator Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of legendary Jacques Cousteau, director of the Santa Barbara-based Ocean Futures Society, and a leading voice for the preservation of marine ecology.

On Monday, September 22, Cousteau and his daughter and fellow marine explorer, Celine, will appear at UCSB’s Campbell Hall to share their vision of the world’s oceans and their crucial role in the future of human civilization. I spoke recently to the passionate Cousteau about the Ocean Futures Society and Santa Barbara’s responsibility in securing the health of the world’s oceans.

Carrie Vonderhaar

Ocean Futures Society is really an international organization; why did you choose Santa Barbara for your headquarters? We’re dealing with environmental issues, and I don’t believe there is any better place to do that, for multiple reasons. We happen to be in a very special part of the coastline that has great biological diversity, and islands that have been in many ways untouched. There are a great number of pinnipeds and crustaceans cruising in the channel; it’s immensely rich in nutrients, so they find a lot of food. This is probably one of the richest parts of the world in terms of the abundance of natural resources.

And there is a certain growing consciousness that is focusing on some of those issues. I am a proud member and founder of Heal the Ocean, born of the frustration of seeing kids not being allowed to go into the water because the coastline was polluted. I’ve been totally convinced that if this community cannot get hold of itself and clean its own mess, then who can? I am a firm believer that we can do it; awareness is growing fast; the authorities have been presented with the facts. We cannot continue to use the ocean as a garbage can. We keep having a monkey reflex: throwing things over our shoulder thinking, “Out of sight, out of mind.” We have to grow up, educate ourselves, and make sure that we don’t pollute our life support system, which happens to be the ocean. I think this community has everything it needs to succeed, and I see signs of success.

There are a lot of people in Santa Barbara who love the ocean. What is it going to take to protect what we have not already destroyed or polluted? There’s this excuse that people hide behind: “I’m only one person.” Well one person can make a difference. People can tell their representative what they want. We have the privilege in this country of being able to express ourselves and not be shot and thrown in jail. Let’s do it! And we can do it in a way where we can reach policy makers and they will react. We need a dialogue.

Any thoughts on the recent County Board of Supervisors’ letter to the governor asking him to lift the moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the S.B. Channel? The ultra-conservative side of this community is on the wrong path. It’s the wrong path because it relies on old technology to get a little bit of energy from sources that are limited and old fashioned, and also potentially create a lot of problems. Even if we get the go-ahead, that energy source will not be available for several years. We are much better off putting all of our energy and resources into solutions that will guarantee our independence from the Middle East and Venezuela. We are so dependent on those nations that we accept being very poorly treated so we can get the energy that allows us to keep going.

This is a thing of the past. It’s pathetic. It’s time for a major wake-up call. There are so many creative people in this country coming up with so many ways of gathering renewable energy, so come on Santa Barbara, wake up! We don’t have to rely on the old-fashioned way of doing things. Don’t take any pressure from the people who say we do.

Anything else you’d like to say? We’re all in this together; let’s work together. People protect what they love, that’s what my father taught me. Our belief at Ocean Futures Society is that if you protect the oceans, you protect yourself. The people who work here are totally dedicated to that mission. It’s not the salaries they work for; it’s because they believe in it and they know they can make a difference. It’s pretty exciting, because we’re heading in a positive direction with new technologies and new ways of looking at how we manage the environment in a sustainable way. Once we see that nature can only provide so much, and we’re heading toward bankruptcy, we have to change something. It’s a very exciting time, but it’s a little bit scary.


Jean-Michel and Celine Cousteau will speak at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Monday, September 22, at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 893-3535 or visit For more on the Ocean Futures Society, check out On Thursday, September 25, at 7 p.m., Jean-Michel will give a multimedia presentation at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. For more information, call 962-8404 x111 or visit


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