Interview with Céline Cousteau on Conservation and Sustainability with Contiki

I had the amazing opportunity and honor to travel with and interview Céline Cousteau in the Galapagos. She is the daughter of the French explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, and the granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau and Simone Melchior Cousteau, the ocean explorers.

The interview took place only an hour or so after we went diving counting sharks. One of the most memorable experiences of my life.


Michael: All right. For those who don’t know you and what you do; if you could just tell me a little bit about yourself .

Céline: Sure. I am a documentary filmmaker. I’m a spokesperson for conservation efforts with 2 different companies. I’m a public speaker, and most recently, have written an e-book for kids. I’m getting back into making jewelry. I do a little bit of everything. All and all it’s . . . I guess in a sense, being a storyteller for socio-cultural environmental stories.

Michael: Cool. Earlier, you said something to me: Don’t try to save the world. Instead, save one thing at a time. I really liked that. Could you explain in better detail what you meant by that?

Céline: I think if you think in terms of trying to save the world, it’s overwhelming; it’s too big. People don’t know how to grasp that idea. It’s like talking about climate change. You go “Oh, God. Where do I start”? For me, if people can start with something tangible, it makes it very real, it makes it accessible, and you can actually measure that change.

If for example, you do something as simple as using less water, less electricity, recycling, eating sustainable seafood, all of those things, you start integrating them one at a time into your life, you realize that that change is actually manageable and doable.

Start one week. Let’s say, “This week, I’m only going to eat sustainable seafood.” You start really measuring and looking at what is it that you’re eating by using sustainable seafood guides, and was that really difficult to integrate into your life? If you’re able to actually manage that, then add something the next week or the next month. Pretty soon, you look at a year down the line, and all of a sudden, you’re doing all of these things that are better for the environment, you’re feeling healthy, and you’re realizing that integrating was not that monumentous. That’s why I really think it’s important for people to start with something tangible, and then move on to something bigger, if possible; supporting other nonprofit organizations, either through donations or volunteering time. Choosing destinations based on either ecotourism, the hotel, the tour operator, or the ability to contribute to projects onsite once you get there; either through your own doing or through the organization. The list goes on.

Michael: Are you saying it would do better if we did smaller things and in batches, rather than trying to a very big thing that you might not able to do so well.

Céline: I think there’s big things, as you’re saying, that need to get done. I think those have to happen. We need to change environmental policy. We need to have scientists who are working on massive data and research projects. All of those need to happen in parallel with your everyday citizen doing their part. That’s what I mean, is that for those people who find it overwhelming to look at environmental issues on a global scale, we need to scale it down and make it tangible. There needs to continue to be these other processes happening; people working on climate change, people working on environmental law, people working on ecosystem protection, the creation of marine parks. Whatever it is that has a greater impact. For the everyday person, just start, please. Start something.


Michael: Yeah. . . So right now, we’re in the Galapagos.

Céline: Yes, we are.

Michael: What do you think makes the Galapagos so special? Sure, the animals and everything, but in your eyes, what do you think?

Céline: I think beyond the obvious points that make the Galapagos so special, I don’t know that I need to cite all of those; you can find your own references on that. I think having access to a place like this is pretty unique. It’s not . . . in terms of the percentage of the population that will actually make it here, it’s very small. I think by that virtue, it’s a privilege to be here. Even just see what you see on the television screen, but you see it live; all of those animals you mention.

The second thing is, is traveling the way you just did and being able to have access to a conservation project gives you access to knowledge. Yes, a lot of people are snorkeling out there and seeing those sharks, but they don’t fully understand what that means that they’re seeing the sharks. It means there’s a healthy ecosystem. I think all of this makes the Galapagos pretty incredible because of what you just lived. You’re bringing some of that information back, and through your writing, people are inspired and maybe they’ll come here; not just go diving, but diving to actually contribute.

Michael: Which brings us to the next thing: You’re working with Contiki, tell me a bit about what you’re doing with Contiki and how you two have partnered up.

Céline: Contiki and I started about 2 years ago. They approached me because they were really wanting to not only contribute to marine-specific conservation efforts, they were wanting to actually get some guidance around it, and then have somebody who was working in the field to be their spokesperson. We were looking at it on different levels. One; my role with them as a consultant on their conservation efforts, and then my role as a spokesperson and a filmmaker.

We chose this project here on the Galapagos, Shark Savers, through a process. I guess my role now is to come here, expose you guys to it, and bring you in and have you be a part of it, and then tell your story as people who came and actually discovered this through this travel organization. Then also, talk about and create a short film on the relationship of Contiki and their conservation projects by showing what the conservation projects are. That’s how come I ended up with Contiki; they approached me to take on the role of a sustainability partner and spokesperson.

It’s growing into something, perhaps more than we thought it was going to, because whenever I start a project, it’s about one specific thing. We’re looking now to a multi-year relationship and what happens next. What’s the next step for us? Contiki is really building it from the ground-up through the Treadright Foundation in creating conservation strategy and not just throwing money into an organization, but actually doing something meaningful by exposing their customers and the public at large about what it is that they’re doing.


Michael: Not only have I been taking amazing pictures of everything that’s been going on and experiences, but I’m learning quite a lot just being here, as well.

Céline: Great.

Michael: I’ve just learned so much in just the one week that I’ve been here. Thanks to Contiki and you, it’s been a wonderful experience this last week.

Céline: See; this is what I hope people will get out of not this, but of what other trips can be like. It’s like, “Yeah, of course you can go visit somewhere. You’re a travel writer. You can go travel the world and see things.” To actually feel like you’re getting your hands into it and have more of a relationship with the place that you’re visiting, rather than just being an outsider taking those photos and that video. It’s good to hear. We have achieved our goal. At least with my goal.

Michael: The last question is: What are you working on now? What other projects do you have going on, and how can people follow what you’re doing right now?

Céline: Sure. I have a nonprofit organization called CauseCentric Productions. We do short documentaries about the work of grassroots organizations, and this will be an ongoing project, hopefully until the end of my life. Right now, we are actually rolling out a series that will be called ‘People in the Sea’. We have already 4 done; we have 2 more in the making, hopefully a third on the way. The other project is a multi-year project in the Amazon, working on something that has been a part of my life for a while. I was 9 when I was in the Amazon for the first time.

The project is basically . . . it was born out of a request, actually, of an indigenous contact in the Brazilian Amazon who asked me to tell their stories. There’s a lot of indigenous people in this one area that have a lot of health issues, specifically with hepatitis A, B, C and Delta. The project is going to be multimedia, multilayered, and multiphased project; the first of which will be audio/visual written-word to tell all of these stories through their point of view. The second will be a full-length documentary and engagement campaign. The third will be something longer-lasting which is to create projects, partnerships, and initiatives that will empower them through filmmaking and radio to tell their own stories, and hopefully create an education and medical system that actually functions. Because they need to be the owners of this, and my role is to tell their story, and then hopefully, create a system that empowers them to then take a hold of their own future and their own storytelling. I’ll be there for a while.

Michael: That sounds amazing. Wow. I can’t wait to watch that.

Céline: Yeah, me too.

Michael: I’ll definitely have to follow your progress.

Céline: You can. You probably know, it’s just the online world; it’s a lot of content, it’s generating a lot of content. I need an army to do that. I need the funding to do that, and that’s the phase I’m in now. I would say don’t hold your breath, it’s not for tomorrow, this will be a marathon of a project.

Michael: So goes for documentaries; they tend to take a while to create.

Céline: It does. I think people don’t realize that. There’s a lot of preproduction, then you get this amazing experience in the field for 2 weeks, and then you’re sitting in front of your computer again for months.

Michael: It also takes a lot of research.

Céline: It takes a lot of research, fundraising, grant writing. Yeah, all that’s there.

Michael: Thank you so much.

Céline: Thank you, Michael.

Michael: It was really great to meet you.

Céline: You too. I’m glad to hear you had that kind of experience. That’s exactly what we are . . .


Follow along with Céline Cousteau’s on:

And be sure to also check out Contiki and Treadright Foundation.

[question]Have a question for Céline? Ask her in the comments below.[/question]

[disclosure]My trip to the Galapagos was sponsored by Contiki. All opinions are my own, obviously.[/disclosure]

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