Home News Ocean lures the heirs of Cousteau’s legacy

Ocean lures the heirs of Cousteau’s legacy

Published on February 19, 2007

WASHINGTON, Feb 18, 2007 (AFP) - It must be that the ocean holds an irresistible attraction to someone with the Cousteau genes swimming in their blood.


Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Philippe Cousteau Jr., and his sister Alexandra grew up around the ocean, and now are taking on the mission of education and conservation begun by their legendary grandfather, explorer Jacques Cousteau.

In 2000, the siblings created the EarthEcho International foundation in Washington in memory of their father, Philippe Cousteau Sr., a documentary producer and filmmaker who died in a seaplane crash in 1979 off Portugal.

“We’ve grown up with the Cousteau legacy and this is a way of continuing their work and bringing the legend and the magic of the Cousteaus to another generation,” Alexandra Cousteau said in an interview with AFP.

Philippe Cousteau

“The oceans are the life support system for the planet,” added Philippe Jr.

“We understand what’s at stake, what is our relationship and how it is related to those systems and how we can make and must make positive and sustainable choices because our lives really rely upon oceans.”

For the past year Philippe Jr. has been the chief ocean correspondent for the US cable network Animal Planet, part of Discovery Communications.

Even before his first program aired, he was thrown into the spotlight by another tragedy — the death of Australian crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, killed by a giant stingray during the September filming of their collaborative “Ocean’s Deadliest” documentary off the Great Barrier Reef.

While Cousteau was in the main boat, “Croc One,” Irwin was diving off a dinghy when stabbed in the chest by a stingray tail barb.  

“He made it to the surface and we pulled him into the boat,” Cousteau recalled. “We did what we could to resuscitate him.”

Cousteau said Irwin’s death was a “freak, one-in-a-million accident” and that the conclusion of the program “was that humankind was the deadliest unsustainable killer of the ocean.”

He was asked to finish the documentary, which aired in the US in January and in international outlets starting in mid-February.

“It was not an easy decision,” Philippe Cousteau said. “But Steve was so proud of the work that he’d been doing and I believed we needed to finish this film rather than have his last film never see the light of day.”

Cousteau and his sister said the death has not deterred them from continuing their exploration and documentaries.

“It’s dangerous but it’s worth it,” he said.

Philippe Cousteau has completed other documentaries for Animal Planet and has been in discussions with the BBC for an eight-part ocean series.

Alexandra meanwhile filmed a documentary for the French cable channel Planete Thalassa in French Polynesia. They are working on documentaries on sharks, humpback whales, the Everglades and the Arctic Ocean.

The siblings have a French heritage but spent much of their childhood in the United States, growing up with their mother, Jan Cousteau, who is a co-founder of EarthEcho.

They point out that Jacques Cousteau’s career took off after he won three Oscars in 1956, 1959 and 1964, which eventually led to the popular ABC television series “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” from 1968. The elder Cousteau divided his time between France and the United States until his death in 1997.

“It was really the United States that launched his career,” Alexandra said.

Their work parallels that of their uncle, Jean-Michel Cousteau, who heads the Ocean Futures Society in Santa Barbara, California.

But they have dedicated their work to their father, whom Philippe never met and whom Alexandra only knew a short time, and argue that environmental action is something for all segments of society, not just scientists.

“You don’t have to be a marine biologist to save the oceans,” Alexandra Cousteau