Jean-Michel Cousteau speaks about environmental conservation at UMD

Jean-Michel Cousteau takes the stage in Hoff Theater.

by Jillian Atelsek

Jean-Michel Cousteau, a famous French explorer and environmentalist, has had a relationship with the ocean for over 70 years. 

Cousteau’s father, Jacques Cousteau, was one of the most influential conservationists and oceanographers of the 20th century, most famous for his invention of the scuba suit. Jacques Cousteau died in 1997, but his son Jean-Michel has carried on, remaining an advocate for ocean preservation and research.

On Tuesday night, Cousteau came to Maryland and spoke to an eager audience about his work and his upcoming documentary film, “The Wonders of the Sea.”

“We are all connected to the ocean, one way or another,” Cousteau told students in Hoff Theater.

“When you drink a glass of water, you’re drinking the ocean, and when you ski on top of the mountain, you are skiing on the ocean,” Cousteau said. “We need to realize that we are all dependent on the quality of  that water for the quality of our lives.”

Samantha Bingaman (left) and Jean-Michel Cousteau.

Cousteau’s lecture was part of the Voices of Social Change series, and was also the Drury Bagwell Omicron Delta Kappa Lecture.

Throughout his talk, Cousteau presented possible ways to reverse the years of poor treatment that the ocean has received. He emphasized the importance of recycling, sustainability, and keeping the environment clean.

“For years, our ocean was treated simultaneously as a limitless supplier of goods, as well as a garbage can,” said Samantha Bingaman, a senior environmental science and policy major and the president of ODK.

Despite the challenges of pollution and climate change, Cousteau remained optimistic about the future of the ocean.

“We can do it,” Cousteau said. “I am totally convinced, and that’s why I will never stop trying to help.”

The students at the event seemed to take Cousteau’s message to heart.

Claire Bolster, a freshman biology major, described the event as “inspiring.”

“It just makes me want to be a marine biologist even more,” she said.

Students like Bolster are why Cousteau says he is able to feel confident about the fate of ocean research and environmentalism. He speaks at universities frequently, and considers it “the best opportunity that I have.”

Cousteau’s lecture was part of Stamp’s “Voices of Social Change” series.

“Students are like sponges,” Cousteau said. “For me, it’s a great privilege to speak to young people.”

Cousteau’s faith in the next generation rests on his belief that they will be able to have a positive influence on the politicians and policy makers of tomorrow.

“Reach their heart — everybody has one,” he told the students, “and get them to make better decisions.”

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