Catching the current

Alexandra Cousteau on Oceana, documentaries and saving the seas.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Alexandra Cousteau off Mallorca for Oceana
Alexandra Cousteau off Mallorca for Oceana

In 2014, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation gave a grant of three million dollars "to support Oceana’s efforts to win real policy change and protection for vital habitats and species throughout the Pacific and Arctic Oceans.” DiCaprio is also the executive producer of Orlando von Einsiedel's Oscar nominated Virunga.

Ted Danson and Sam Waterston are on the Oceana Board of Directors, and supporters include Diane Lane, January Jones, Cobie Smulders, Morgan Freeman, Mary Steenburgen, Jeff Goldblum, Pierce Brosnan, James Cameron, Harrison Ford, Barbra Streisand, Sting, Josh Lucas, Jason Priestley, Philippe Cousteau Jr., Kate Walsh, Miguel Bosé, Amber Valletta, Adrian Grenier, Trudie Styler, Alexandra Cousteau, Rashida Jones, Almudena Fernández, Miranda Cosgrove, Sarah Shahi, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, and Sam Trammell.

Nautica Oceana City & Sea Party host Alexandra Cousteau: "Where Oceana gets involved, change starts to happen."
Nautica Oceana City & Sea Party host Alexandra Cousteau: "Where Oceana gets involved, change starts to happen." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Expedition Blue Planet filmmaker, Alexandra Cousteau, and I met to discuss life with Jacques-Yves Cousteau, banning microbeads, COP21, and her work with Oceana before the 1st Annual Nautica Oceana City & Sea Party she hosted with Cobie Smulders at the Gansevoort Park Avenue Rooftop in New York.

This morning saw breaking news in The New York Times BP to Pay $18.7 Billion for Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill by Campbell Robertson and Richard Pérez-Peña.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Tell me about the event tonight.

Alexandra Cousteau: It's a benefit for Oceana. I'm a Senior Advisor with Oceana. I've been working with them now in my third year and I support their work in expeditions, storytelling, media, fund-raising, engaging political leaders or other potential supporters.

AKT: You say storytelling. What does that mean in this context?

AC: Through film or telling stories of expeditions.

AKT: Talk a bit about your film work! What are the issues you have been tackling with your documentaries?

AC: Mainly, obviously, water and ocean. I've been in the past five years really interested in shorter format. How to tell shorter stories that have an impact that people want to share. Share online, share on social media, share in articles, on websites.

Alexandra Cousteau - Expedition Blue Planet on the Colorado River Delta
Alexandra Cousteau - Expedition Blue Planet on the Colorado River Delta

AKT: To talk about the ocean, of course one couldn't have a better pedigree than yours. I remember as a child collecting little stickers of sea creatures in a book on your grandfather Jacques-Yves Cousteau. You got the book at an Esso gas station and every time my father filled up the car, I wanted those stickers. Did you ever rebel? Were there times when you wanted to have nothing to do with the sea and move to the mountains?

AC: Did I rebel? No, it was just a part of me by then.

AKT: Were you actively out on the ocean with your grandfather?

AC: Occasionally. He wasn't out there all the time. He was raising money and meeting leaders. He'd go on expedition and get film and be there for a little while and then do his thing. So when I saw him it was usually here in New York or in Paris or in the editing room or for dinner. I grew up on expeditions until my father [Philippe Cousteau] died. The first four years of my life, my father was on expedition all the time. He was executive producing all of these and actually making the films. But after his death, I continued to visit my grandparents, my grandmother specifically, on expedition.

AKT: What did you think of Wes Anderson's Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou?

AC: I don't really remember it. It wasn't that memorable.

Virunga executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio is also an Oceana supporter
Virunga executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio is also an Oceana supporter Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: The bracelet I am wearing is from Connect4Climate. It was given to me at an event with Marion Cotillard. I attended the launch of Luc Jacquet's Ice & Sky educational program. His documentary, Ice And The Sky, was the closing night film at Cannes. What are you hoping for at COP21?

AC: The recent remarks by the Pope give me a lot of hope that there's starting to be some change. it's a big deal to have the Pope take a stand on environmental issues generally, and climate change particularly. I think it's courageous, it's timely and it's important to do so. I hope that his voice will be heard by the billion Catholics around the world and by the leadership.

AKT: On the subject of pollution, talk a bit about the floating islands of plastic garbage in the ocean.

AC: It's really a huge issue. It got a lot more visibility lately, which is good. A lot of people are trying to figure out how to clean it up. Prevention is even more important than the cure. Banning microbeads and recycling our plastic, trying to avoid plastic when we can, banning single-use plastic bags - all these things definitely need to be adopted by the majority. That's been slow.

As much as we get done with voluntary actions, I think there's also a place for legislation and regulation. Townships that ban single-use plastic bags, legislation that bans microbeads, all these things are critically important.

AKT: The co-op where I live is part of the composting pilot program here in New York. Frequently, I see that neighbors put their compost in regular plastic bags into the composting bin. That does not help. There is an awareness lacking.

Filming from the Colorado River: "I've been in the past five years really interested in shorter format."
Filming from the Colorado River: "I've been in the past five years really interested in shorter format."

AC: The education is lacking. I currently live in Berlin, Germany, and you legally have to recycle. Every building has all the different bins for paper, plastic, glass, etc. and legally you have to use them.

AKT: You get a fine if you don't.

AC: And the neighbors will tell you if you're not doing it right. I think that's an example where legislation changed behavior and it changed how people think about things and what they think is important.

AKT: What about overfishing?

AC: That's one of the things I'm working on with Oceana that I'm so proud of. Oceana is the largest non-profit in the world dedicated to Ocean conservation. They are not afraid to tackle big ambitious issues like global overfishing but they are also incredibly strategic and data driven about how to accomplish those goals.

With overfishing, they realized it's not about tackling 120 countries. But it's about influencing fisheries and regulations and policies in two dozen countries that do 90% of the fishing. That is achievable. That's game changing. A global world changing vision that is actually doable. They've been supported by Bloomberg and Clinton and a lot of people around the world.

The Expedition Blue Planet crew on the Colorado River
The Expedition Blue Planet crew on the Colorado River

AKT: The list is impressive. i saw that the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation gave money last year.

AC: Yes, because it's a visionary project. This is what Oceana does and I'm so proud to be an advisor.

AKT: You live in Berlin, so you are close to the Baltic Sea. How does the Baltic look?

AC: There's room for improvement. I was on expedition with Oceana in the Baltic. Oceana really adopted the idea that images and film are critical to having leadership, politicians and people who are making the decisions understand why this area should become a marine protected area. They compile it, combine it with the scientific studies and share that with decision makers. Oceana has been really good at that. They really tipped the scales. Where Oceana gets involved, change starts to happen.

Read my conversations with Cobie Smulders on the impact cinema can have and the work she is doing with Oceana and David Rasche of In the Loop, at the 1st Annual Nautica Oceana City & Sea Party in New York.

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