Explorer Alexandra Cousteau’s around-the-world tour stops in South Louisiana to promote water conservation

By Molly Reid
May 5, 2009; The Times-Picayune


Her grandfather, sea explorer and filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau, gave the world an unprecedented look at the wonders of the oceans. Now, Alexandra Cousteau is on an expedition of her own to spread awareness of water conservation.
In March, Cousteau embarked on "Expedition: Blue Planet, " a 100-day journey to five continents. In late April, she spent five days in south Louisiana — the only North American stop of the entire trip.
The mission of the expedition is to "look at water issues all over the world and how they impact resources, " Cousteau said, speaking by phone.
"I first went on an expedition with my family when I was 4 months old. I learned to swim before I learned to walk. My grandfather taught me about the oceans, and water has always been a really important issue to me."
To begin, Cousteau toured the Lower 9th Ward and the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Witnessing the hurricane-ravaged neighborhood struggling to recover reaffirmed her belief in the importance of responsible water management, she said.
"Water is our most important ecosystem, and it will be the first to feel the impacts of climate change, " Cousteau said.
In New Iberia, she met with Wilma Subra, a chemist and environmental activist, to discuss the effects of environmental mismanagement on Louisiana’s marine life. Coastal erosion typically gets top billing in that regard, but just as serious is the Dead Zone, Cousteau said, referring to an 8,000-square-mile area off the continental shelf in the Gulf of Mexico that supports little to no life forms.
Cousteau spoke to shrimpers and fishers in Golden Meadow and Grand Isle, who gave her a firsthand account of the consequences of the Dead Zone.
"They said the shrimp will jump onshore because they are suffocating, " Cousteau said. "There’s not enough oxygen. Everything dies unless they can run away.
Janet McConnaughey / AP Photo
Alexandra Cousteau, right, granddaughter of famed underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau, interviews David Muth, resource manager for the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve Basin.
"So much of American life comes from this watershed, so it’s been a wonderful challenge and a pleasure to come here and try to understand what’s happening."
In her past six weeks’ travels, Cousteau, who also is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and founder of the water conservation nonprofit Blue Legacy, has visited the Ganges River in India, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the Jordan River and the Dead Sea Basin, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and Perth, Australia. At the end of her stay in south Louisiana, she was destined for her home base in Washington, before heading to her last stop on the expedition, the Shab Rumi Reef in the Red Sea.
Sponsored by the bottled water company Dasani, Cousteau and her team are chronicling their journey and plan to compile the footage into a documentary film, she said. The choice of Dasani as a corporate sponsor might seem counterintuitive to a project about water quality, seeing that bottled water is responsible for 29 million plastic bottles discarded in the United States annually, many of which make their way into waterways instead of landfills, according to National Geographic.
However, Cousteau said, "Our priority was to partner with companies that are really genuinely trying to act sustainably. I believe there have to be individuals and communities at the table, and there has to be industry. Everybody has to be at the table. It can’t just be environmentalists."
Cousteau’s hope is that her journey will inspire people to pay more attention to their local water resources, whether it’s helping to restore coastal wetlands or simply picking up trash along the Lake Pontchartrain shoreline.
In the end, "we’re all connected by water, " she said. "We’re all downstream from one another, and we all share the consequences of action and inaction."
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Molly Reid can be reached at mreid@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3448.