World Oceans Day 2019: Jean-Michel Cousteau on why Dubai surprises him

We speak to the 81-year-old filmmaker and conservationist about his relationship with the oceans

Explorer, environmentalist, educator, film producer—for
more than four decades Jean-Michel Cousteau has
communicated to people of all nations and generations
his love and concern for our water planet. The son of
ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, Jean-Michel founded
Ocean Futures Society in 1999 to carry on this
pioneering work and to honor his heritage.
Jean-Michel serves as an impassioned diplomat for
the environment, reaching out to the public through a
variety of media, producing over 75 films, receiving
Emmy awards, the Peabody Award, the 7 d'Or, and the
Cable Ace Award, and authoring hundreds of articles
and several books. Jean-Michel travels the globe,
meeting with leaders and policymakers at the grassroots
level and at the highest echelons of government and
business, educating young people, documenting stories
of change and hope, and lending his reputation and
support to energize alliances for positive change.
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Jean-Michel Cousteau, the son of one of the world's most famous ocean researchers (Jacques Cousteau), and his family have been responsible for some of the greatest ocean exploration in history. Despite having just turned 81 years old, the filmmaker and conservationist shows no signs of slowing down. As one of the first people to be officially certified to scuba dive – he holds certificate number 10 of the 27 million certificates that Padi has awarded – Cousteau is dedicated to travelling the world acting as a voice for the ocean, and was in Dubai last month, where we got the chance to speak with him about his love of the world's waters.

What sparked your love for the ocean?

As a child, we were just always in the water, all the time. I've been snorkelling and swimming since I was three or four years old and spent so much time on Calypso [his father Jacques-Yves Cousteau's research vessel]. Diving just made sense; it was a way of living, and simply became something critical for me. It also opened up new adventures as it meant I could be with my dad when he was going somewhere else to discover new things.

You’ve travelled the globe. Do you have a favourite place?

The next one. The one I haven’t been to just yet.


Because I am an adventurer. I want to discover, I want to see things I’ve never seen before, and meet people I’ve never met and get to know cultures that I don’t know about.

You’ve also been diving all around the world. Where was the best spot you’ve been to?

There are so many, it’s hard to say. You have to understand that the ocean is 70 per cent of the planet, so what it is made up of varies greatly. There are places on Earth where the water is very, very cold – you dive in ice water and nature there is not the same as the rest of the planet. Then there are places like the Mediterranean Sea or certain parts of the west coast or east coast of the US, where average temperatures mean different nature and species again. And then there are the tropical places, like here in Dubai, where the temperature is way up and the species that live here are again very different.

In that case, where would you recommend for people who are new to diving?

I think for new divers, the best option is to dive in temperate or tropical waters. There are many places where you can do that and see excellent marine life. Florida is one, but it can sometimes be expensive there, so perhaps French Polynesia, Hawaii or Fiji.

Do you ever go back to the same place, or do you always try to travel somewhere new?

I do both, but mostly that’s because I meet people at many of the places that I’ve been to before and then they invite me to come back. I think I’m invited to come back here to Dubai again soon.

What’s a destination that’s special to you?

I spend a lot of time in Fiji because, in my opinion, it's the capital of soft coral. I love the diversity and the people. I go over to the South Pacific, take people diving and we also have our educational programme there.

Where’s a place that you’ve been that really surprised you?

I’m not just saying this because I’m here, but the UAE, where I’ve been many times before, has surprised me. Seeing the explosion of the presence of humans and all the industries that come along with that has been shocking, but at the same time, it’s given me real hope. Hope because there are people here who care about the environment, who are asking questions and who are trying to do things in a better way. To achieve that, we need more education to help us stabilise the human population and stop increasing it by 100 million people every year. Then we can get to a point of managing the planet in a sustainable way. But already we’re heading in that direction and I see signs of that here. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here.

Jean-Michel Cousteau teaches children about the world's waters on a Dubai beach. Courtesy The Ritz-Carlton

What’s the best thing about travelling?

I love to meet new people because it means learning something. From a cultural point of view, I'm looking at the human species like I'd look at species of fish or jellyfish. Think about it. If we were all the same colour, all the same religion, all the same language, it would be so ruddy boring. That's what's so exciting and it's such a pleasure to travel to see new people, cultures, religions. Diversity is synonymous with stability, so thank you humans. If we weren't so fascinating, I'd be off hiding somewhere trying to catch the last fish in the ocean.

Having travelled the world for decades, what changes have you noticed most?

The impact of technology is one. I was in India not too long ago and I was in a room where there was a man in front of a computer surrounded by perhaps 100 people, poor people, all asking questions. He was using the computer to find answers to their questions, but what amazed me was that the majority of the questions they were asking were not about India, but instead they were about the rest of the planet. It reinforced the fact that, more than ever before, we are all connected now.Having travelled the world for decades, what changes have you noticed most?

Readers can show their support for Jean-Michel’s ocean conservation by signing up for free membership at the Ocean Future Society,


Read more:

10 easy ways to get involved with World Oceans Day

Ultratravel: Summer 2019

Why underwater explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau believes it's not too late to save our oceans