In Deep: Fabien Cousteau
By Ingrid Skjong
As the grandson of legendary deep-sea explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, it’s no great surprise that Fabien Cousteau is a major champion of the world’s oceans. He travels to far-flung places like Belize, Papua New Guinea and Samoa for his cause—to the layman an exotic-sounding, even glamorous life.
“Glamorous? I don’t know—it depends on how you define ‘glamorous,’” says Cousteau, 41, who splits his time between Brooklyn and France. “I define glamorous as life fulfillment, and I go to sleep exhausted and I wake up every morning ready to do it again, so [perhaps] there is something to it.”
Cousteau and his crew—a collection of divers (including Cousteau’s father, Jean-Michel, and his sister, Céline), camera people, sound engineers, researchers and scientists—go on three to four expeditions per year, studying aquatic life and producing television specials like this spring’s Sea Ghosts (about beluga whales) and Call of the Killer Whale (about orcas), as part of the Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventure series on PBS.
And although fascinated by the entire underwater “web of life,” as he calls it, as well as the environment as a whole, Cousteau has made the shark his particular focus—and a focus of particular concern. As he recites shocking statistics (approximately 100 million sharks are killed each year), his worry is palpable. “It’s not hard to imagine that in a few years, at that pace, there’s not going to be anything left,” he says.
Along with his work abroad, Cousteau is involved in myriad conservation-related endeavors and educational programs for adults as well as kids. He launched a not-for-profi t undersea replanting program called Plant a Fish, advises environmentally conscious businesses as a consultant with the marketing agency GreenDog, and is writing a trilogy of teen books about a 12-year-old’s adventures in a future city.
He’s also committed to giving back locally, including as a board member of the New York Harbor School, which is moving from its current home in Bushwick to Governors Island next year. The school gives youngsters a traditional high school curriculum supplemented by marine technologyoriented programs of study (commercial diving, vessel engineering, marine policy), as well as internships with the likes of Riverkeeper.
It’s all part of a family legacy—along with a commitment to saving our seas and igniting environmental passion in others—that Cousteau is eager to continue. “When you look at a classroom full of kids or an auditorium full of adults,” he says. “and you tell a story, and you watch them get it, and you watch them become compassionate and ingrained and curious, that’s the reward."
photograph by Sari Goodfriend