Features: Conversation With...

Sep
2009

The Under-See World of Alexandra Cousteau

The famed water advocate discusses her latest expedition and new partnership with Revo


It’s been a long trip but the end is in sight. Alexandra Cousteau’s 100 day journey—called Expedition: Blue Planet—which spanned five continents exploring critical global water issues is nearing its end. When 20/20 connects with the group thanks to a series of cell phone calls, text messages and emails (isn’t technology a beautiful thing?) they are in Cambodia with only one more stop to make in Perth, Australia.

An advocate for water quality and policy, Cousteau is excited to share what she’s learned along the way. “Water is life,” she says. “Without prompting or in many cases even asking a question, I’ve heard men, women and children across five continents and in dozens of languages express this same, simple phrase. Too often, we look at global explorations like Expedition: Blue Planet and only think of digging wells for clean drinking water. And while that issue is absolutely critical, water means food for the table, a way to provide a living, a means of transportation to school, a source of beauty and inspiration, hope for the future, and here in Cambodia where I am today, it even means ‘home’ for millions.”

Cousteau is the granddaughter of famed oceanographer, explorer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau. He is the man whose TV series “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” introduced many of us to a world of sharks, whales, dolphins, sunken treasure and coral reefs at a time before entire channels were dedicated to such topics. Instead of taking her famous name (“Cousteau” is ranked second only to “Mohammed Ali” for global name recognition by Ogilvy & Mather) and traipsing around the world to parties with a tiny dog in tow or designing, for example, a swimsuit collection, she decided she would carry on the family tradition of environmental conservation, specifically (and fittingly) water conservation.

“I went on expedition for the first time at four months old and learned to dive with SCUBA [Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus] from my grandfather at seven,” she recalls. “I grew up traveling the world and being shaped by the legacy of both my father [Philippe] and grandfather’s work. Once you experience the environmental and cultural treasures that are being threatened on a daily level, you can’t help but want to do something to make a difference. I think for too long, traditional ‘environmentalists’ have demanded that people protect things they’ve never had the opportunity to truly experience. I want to change that.”

So what does all this have to do with eyewear? Cousteau has recently partnered with Revo, a company rightly renowned for its polarized sunwear. And spanning a rich optical heritage, select styles are now designed with Revo Re-Use frame components, meaning they are made from 100 percent recycled pre-consumer polymer resins.

“Obviously it is deeply important that the companies we partner with share our commitment to the environment and to the values that shape the work we do around the world every single day,” she says. “The more we got to know about Revo, the more we got excited about the opportunity to forge a partnership. Without exception, we found a real camaraderie among those with whom we worked and remain impressed with the commitment the company has for our planet.”

Revo has been a good and trusted addition to her team. “When you are thousands of miles from home and working in harsh environments to tell a critical story, the quality of your gear really matters,” she says. “And when you tell your story on camera, that quality has to come in a style that works for the image and brand behind the stories. It’s kind of become a joke among our crew… after we’ve loaded all our gear and dabbed on the last bit of sun screen, someone invariably says, ‘Okay... it’s Revo time,’ and we don our shades and head out for the day. It’s kind of our team huddle activity. I know that sounds kind of corny, but with a 16 to 18 hour day out in the elements, our sunglasses are a critical part of our gear list. It’s fun to be able to make a statement as a team with our Revos as well.”

As for her own personal style, Cousteau prefers aviators. “I’ve always worn an aviator-styled frame,” she says. “The new Revo aviators have a great fit while also carrying a lens that provides the level of protection I need (I have very sun-sensitive eyes, especially out on the water) without distorting things so much that I can’t step over to review a shot on the monitor or snap off a few shots on my camera. The crew shares this sentiment as well.” 
Alexandra Cousteau launched Blue Legacy in 2008 as an initiative to help shape society’s dialogue to include water as one of the defining issues of the century and to inspire people to take action. That same year, she was honored as a National Geographic “Emerging Explorer”—an elite group of 11 young trailblazers from around the world who push the boundaries of global problem solving. In addition to continuing her work as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, Cousteau serves as chief environmental correspondent, water expert and host for Discovery Channel’s “Planet Green” and publishes a monthly syndicated column through Readers Digest International. Fluent in English, French and Spanish, she will release her first book—“This Blue Planet”—in 2010 through the Penguin Group.

In October, thanks to the support of the Blackstone Ranch, Blue Legacy will join the Aspen Institute in hosting the inaugural session of its yearly Blue Action Dialogues. The session will bring experts from a variety of water-related disciplines around the world to Washington, D.C. to outline the top three to five critical water issues in an effort to mold global water policy discussion. “By partnering with the scientific and policy community and by continuing to add significant technology in how we tell our stories and connect with people online, we are working to truly shape how our generation thinks about and acts on water issues,” notes Cousteau.

Although Blue Expedition has been taxing, Cousteau felt compelled to undertake the journey because she feels we are at a “critical moment” in time. “Water—this precious gift that makes life possible on our blue planet—faces threats that are greatly magnified in both scale and speed of impact by climate change,” she explains. “In the face of these issues, much of the world still discusses water-related policies in tiny little buckets. We talk about ‘river policy’ and ‘fishing issues,’ and ‘farming standards,’ and oceans, energy and clean drinking water as though somehow we have the luxury of sipping from sterile little silos. Water is the one thing that truly connects us all, joining us in a network of interconnected cycles and positioning each of us downstream from the other. Through Blue Legacy International and our annual Expeditions, we work to tell the critical stories that highlight the interconnectivity of water issues.”

And for those who want to get more actively involved in environmental conservation she advises them to get out there and see for themselves what’s happening. “My grandfather used to say, ‘go and see,’” Cousteau says. “I love that concept. I challenge people to follow their curiosities and truly experience the issues of our times. For some, that will be in person, but in an age of nearly endless connectivity, all of us have the opportunity to know more about the people, places and policies that are shaping and being shaped by our actions. When you take just a second to ‘go and see,’ you can’t help but be inspired to get involved.”

 

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