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 Alexandra Cousteau – environmentalist, water advocate and Georgetown graduate – has been fascinated with water and oceans for pretty much her entire life.

“Everything I’m doing now started really early,” Cousteau told a packed ICC auditorium on April 5, co-sponsored by SFS’ Science, Technology and International Affairs proram (STIA), the Lecture Fund, the Office of the College Dean and the Center for Environment.

“My parents taught me to swim when I was four months old; I went on my first expedition shortly thereafter to Easter Island,” Cousteau said.

Her fascination is no surprise, given that her grandfather is Jacques Cousteau, legendary filmmaker and explorer.

Cousteau talked about her grandfather fondly, attributing his films to opening up the ocean for people.  She described a period in her childhood when she would spend a lot of time with him, feeding and learning about fish. She realized later that he was teaching her about sustainability and biodiversity and what mankind stands to lose if it does not protect the oceans.

She continued to be fascinated by any body of water, “but as I got older, some of those places that were truly precious to me started to disappear,” Cousteau said, recalling that this began her interest in activism.  After working on water-related projects in South America, she came to Georgetown and eventually decided to study government with a focus on international relations.

She made it clear to the students in attendance that “I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.” She struggled because there was no career in environmentalism. She felt international relations and political science could teach her cause and effect.

She started her non-profit Blue Legacy in 2008 to shape the conversation about the interconnected issues with water. To do this, she chose a web-based approach to reach a broader audience.  “I come from a filmmaking family, but I didn’t want to make films. I wanted to make videos online,” she said.

Cousteau went on a 100-day expedition and filmed web videos so people could see these issues up close.  Although the videos were well received, she realized her videos weren’t affecting people the way she hoped because viewers didn’t see the connection to the United States. So she went on another expedition of North America.

“It was shocking, what we saw,” Cousteau said of the North American expedition. “Even I had really underestimated the extent to which we have really devastated some of our most amazing treasures.”  Cousteau’s team studied the Colorado River and the aftermath of the Gulf Oil Spill, among other issues.

“What I learned on this last expedition is that we have to shape the conversation we’re having about water. We need to understand that we all live under a larger system,” Cousteau said.

She also had some advice to give the students in attendance.  “The most important thing I would tell you which I’ve learned is that no matter what you do, choose something that makes you feel alive. I’ve met a lot of people doing incredibly important things, out of the box things, innovative things and they all do what they love. They’re excited about it,” she stressed.

“Water is a funny thing in that it’s incredibly local,” Cousteau summed up. She said that the biggest changes she’s seen don’t come from the top, but from communities and people who are dedicated to make changes in the way they live their life.

“Local action is one of our strongest assets and something we should all be a part of,” Cousteau concluded.

 

-Jen Lennon April 20, 2011

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