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Jacques Cousteau's Granddaughter Continues His Legacy

Alexandra Cousteau

Alexandra Cousteau (C'98) followed her grandfather's footsteps, studying at the Harvard Oceanographic Institute after studying government at Georgetown College.

—PHOTO BY: Kuna Hamad

January 4, 2011 – Using some of the underwater gear created by her famous grandfather, Alexandra Cousteau (C’98) and her international team, Expedition Blue Planet, traveled 14,500 miles across North America in 2010 to investigate global water issues.

At a recent luncheon sponsored by Georgetown College, she said Jacques Cousteau, who died the year before she graduated from Georgetown, taught her to scuba dive at the age of 7.

He educated her about the environment, biodiversity, and underwater ecologies, she said, but also kept her guessing.

“If you want to know about the world, you’ll have to go see for yourself,” she said he told her.

Blue Legacy

The Georgetown government major followed her grandfather’s advice, studying dolphins at the Harvard Oceanographic Institution, diving with humpback whales in Maui and helping fisherman in Costa Rica with sustainable fishing practices.

In 2008, she founded Blue Legacy, an initiative that explores and documents environmental change.

An outgrowth of that initiative, Expedition Blue Planet is resulting in blog posts, photo essays and short web documentaries to help viewers understand their role in story of America’s changing watersheds.

“When you poison your water, you destroy your community,” Cousteau explained to students at the lunch. “In the United States, Over half of our rivers are neither fishable, drinkable nor swimmable.”

Systems Thinking

She pointed to the Gulf of Mexico is as a prime example of an ecosystem in extreme distress. Even before the BP oil spill, she said, there was a dead zone “the size of New Jersey” in the gulf, a result of agricultural runoff.

“We thought that was the worst,” she said. But now she said it’s clear that marine ecology has been destroyed and the generations of people who relied upon those waters no longer have a way to make a living.

The spill is “an intergenerational issue that we’ve stopped talking about six months after the fact,” Cousteau lamented.

Cousteau emphasized using “systems thinking” which she said considers how everything from politics to ecology has a global effect. This way of thinking combats the fragmentation of knowledge that she said arises when people don’t connect daily practices with their environment impacts.

The Greatest Tool

Cousteau said her coursework at Georgetown profoundly affected her future.

Her international relations classes, she explained, taught her about global cause and effect, which proved to be “the greatest tool I have used in everything I’ve done.”

Cousteau encouraged students to become involved in their local water issues and find out where their water comes from and where it goes.

“If we don’t write ourselves into stories, we don’t internalize them,” she explained. “That’s what my grandfather did … he told us stories and helped us connect the dots.”

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