Born in France in 1938, Jean-Michel Cousteau spent his life exploring the depths of the deep blue ocean, rich marine life and nature-connectedness. Jean-Michel’s love for the ocean began at the age of seven when he started diving using the Aqua-Lung that his father, Jacques Cousteau co-invented. After a lifetime dedicated to ocean conservation through education, awareness and diplomacy, the President of France honored him in 2016 with the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, Knight of Honour. Jean-Michel co-founded the organization Ocean Futures Society and the educational program Ambassadors of the Environment to empower the next generation of ocean stewards. With several programmes across the world, The Ritz-Carlton Maldives is the only resort in the country offering education and conservation activities in partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment.
Hotelier Maldives had the privilege of sitting down with Jean-Michel Cousteau at The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands to discuss his beloved life’s work; the ocean and its conservation.
Dreaming of building cities underwater
Jean-Michel became an architect to fulfill his childhood dreams of building cities underwater. After receiving a degree in architecture from the Paris School of Architecture, Jean-Michel served the French government in Madagascar by designing and supervising the construction of six schools. During the weekends, he continued diving, falling deeper in love with the complex underwater worlds around Madagascar and nearby islands. Before his stay in Madagascar ended, he travelled to the southern end of Maldives to dive for three days.
Pioneering change amidst destruction
Over the years, Jean-Michel has revisited many of his favourite dive spots and noticed the adverse effects of ocean acidification, overfishing and pollution on the health of reef ecosystems. Jean-Michel aims to shed light on lesser-acknowledged threats to the ocean, such as the impact of industrial chemicals and heavy metals. Considering the ocean covers 70% of the planet, waste disposed of in rivers inevitably ends up in the ocean. On a positive note, he remarked that with education and change in practices, the health of some reefs and marine ecosystems is improving.
Jean-Michel is not only enamoured with oceans but also with people and their connection with the natural environment. He believes humans are not separate but intimately connected to the ocean. The quality of our lives depends on the quality of the oceans.
“What I like is not just the beauty of the islands, coral reefs, and the animals that are living there, but the people. I am learning about their culture, and what they are connected to in nature, whether it is on land or in the ocean. Wherever I go, I get connected to the local population. I am not just fascinated by the environment, but also by these people and what I learn. To me, that is very exciting,” says Jean-Michel.
In 1999, Jean-Michel founded Ocean Futures Society to explore the world’s ocean, reveal the bond between people and the sea and prioritize effective environmental policy. Through the non-profit, he has served as a steward of the seas through marine conservation, education and documentary filmmaking.
Jean-Michel remarked, “We need to provide the decision-makers of tomorrow, the young people, with all the information that will allow them to do much better than we have done. I was making big mistakes when I was a kid, but things are changing now thanks to education.”
Featured Image: Jean-Michel diving (credits: Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society)
To provide the next generation with the knowledge and tools to live in harmony with nature, Jean-Michel spent the last 15 years developing the educational program, Ambassadors of the Environment. Lessons are culturally relevant and drawn from the natural environment to explore more sustainable alternatives for a better future. The programmes are available to school groups and vacationers in Hawaii, the Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, California, Mexico, and the Maldives.
Ritz-Carlton Maldives inspires ambassadors of the environment
The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands, is the only resort in the Maldives offering Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program. Guests of all ages are invited to enrich their stay with experiential educational activities focused on the ocean, coral reefs and sustainable living. Inspire a love of nature in children with fun, hands-on and age-appropriate activities such as Micro Plastic Hunters, Eco Heros, Little Conservationists and Ambassadors in our Green Kitchen. The whole family will enjoy the programs, Reef Builder Workshop, Starlight Explorers and Cities Under the Sea Snorkel. All activities celebrate traditional Maldivian culture and Jean-Michel’s lifework of safeguarding ocean heritage and inspiring the next generation of ocean conservationists.
Empowering Maldivian environmentalists
During his recent visit to the Maldives, Jean-Michel was impressed with the depth of knowledge of local students. He remarks, “I met with students from a nearby island today and it was fascinating. They are like sponges, absorbing all this information. These people have been isolated and their sixteen-year-old kids have never been out of their little islands. However, god, they know so much about where they are. We need to protect that and make sure we learn from what they are doing.”
Jean-Michel hopes to inspire the next generation of environmental change makers in the Maldives. “I think it is very important to have the right people who can communicate the importance of protecting what the Maldivians have done to protect the environment, to the visitors. It is not only having the educational knowledge, by being a biologist, for example, which is important. But being able to connect with people and find out how we can pass on the information on how to do a better job at taking care of what we all depend on the planet. That is what a big part of the Ambassadors of the Environment Programme is about.”
The life work of Jean-Michel reveals the fragility, resilience and the intricate connection of marine ecosystems to all life on earth. Like us, future generations will rely on the ocean for prosperity, sustenance and joy. Policy, education and conservation efforts are essential to safeguarding the health of marine environments. Jean-Michel wished to conclude with sentiment, “It is very important for us to make the decision-makers, industries, and governments think about the future and make a pledge to protect the environment which we all depend upon.”
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