Jean-Michel Cousteau, with the help of Arnold Schwarzenegger, lets us peek at ‘Wonders of the Sea’
LOS ANGELES—“The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” was probably the first documentary I watched when I was growing up. I was mesmerized by the adventures of this French man, wearing a red bonnet and glasses aboard the Calypso, as they explored the seas and encountered various underwater species all over the world.
So I was pleased to recently meet Jean-Michel Cousteau, Jacques’ eldest son who, it turns out, joined his dad in those exploits in the oceans, along with his brother, Philippe.
Like his father, Jean-Michael is an accomplished oceanographic explorer, passionate environmentalist, educator and film producer.
Jean-Michel’s latest documentary, “Wonders of the Sea 3D,” is narrated by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Codirected by Jean-Michel with Jean-Jacques Mantello, the documentary also features Arnold, Jean-Michel himself and his children, Celine and Fabien Cousteau.
With new breakthrough developments in filming techniques in 3D, “Wonders of the Sea” takes viewers on a dive to discover underwater wonders in oceans from Fiji to the Bahamas. The film also informs us about the threats that put the oceans at risk.
“Wonders…” continues the tradition started by Jacques, who died in Paris at 87 in 1997.
Jean-Michel, who is 80, recalled how his dad baptized him in the ocean, so to speak: “My brother was 4 1/2 and I was 7. He put tanks on my back and all that, pushed us overboard, and we became scuba divers. We never stopped because he always wanted to go where we had never been.
“People ask me, ‘What is your best dive?’ I always say, ‘The next one.’ Because we know nothing or very little about the ocean. We have explored maybe eight percent of the ocean. We know a few hundred thousands of species. But there are tens of thousands of species that we don’t know.”
Excerpts from our chat:
Have you explored the large bodies of water around the Philippines? I have been to the Philippines, which I love. (He added later that he spent several weeks exploring all over the country.)
I’m happy to tell you that a very nice lady from the Philippines just gave me straws in a nice package which are made of bamboo. We can have that all over the planet today.
The Philippines has a lot of people very concerned (with protecting the environment). We’re listening more and more to people from places like the Philippines, who can share with us some interesting new discoveries and ways of doing things.
Obviously, the ocean is being affected more and more by our use of fuel and the effect that we have, not only in the immediate ocean, but also the emission of carbon dioxide, which contributes to the increase of temperature of the ocean in many parts of the world, where the coral reefs are dying.
Forty-five percent of the coral reefs is already dead. That is a huge problem because coral reefs are a very important part of the ocean for thousands of species to find food and protection in. We are weakening the ecosystem to a point where, unfortunately, it may collapse.
How did your collaboration with Arnold Schwarzenegger come about? Schwarzenegger was a governor in the state of California. When he left office, his whole life was focused on protecting the environment. He was approached by my colleagues, the Mantellos (Francois and Jean-Jacques, producers), who started the concept of this unbelievable film, “Wonders of the Sea.”
After 73 years of scuba diving, I can now see, thanks to the technology being used, the behavior of all kinds of creatures, even tiny little ones, which I could not see with the naked eye. And that is why it took so much time to make this show.
When Schwarzenegger found out about it, he said, “I want to be a part of it.” And that is what he did. He contributed not only his name and talent to make sure that we knew about this unique show that is now being shared all over the planet.
I am amazed that in the United States and Canada, 960 theaters will show the film this month.
People should go and see a little bit of what’s out there in the ocean which we are all connected to and depend upon.
It’s also fascinating as a spectacle. We are in very interesting situations, and Schwarzenegger has only one thing in mind, which is to educate and help people.
That’s why we are in total agreement with him. He has been so nice, making comments about my involvement and the fact that this show is special.
You were pushed by your father to dive. Did you push your own children into diving? No, I didn’t push them. My parents did (laughs). I have to blame somebody, and my parents are not here. No, they are very much involved.
Unfortunately, I lost my brother last year. He had two children and they are wet, and I have two children and they are wet.
I have a grandson who was born underwater where I grew up in the South of France. So he is wet (laughs).
It’s a problem because he is now 7 years old. He is taking all his toys, and he throws them in the pool or in the ocean.
How do we keep educating ourselves about ways to protect the ocean environment? Now, we have access to the information, which we didn’t have before.
So today, we need to pass on the message in the school systems all over the planet. Teachers love it. They want to get something new to share with their students.
That is why, for example, “Wonders of the Sea” is a fascinating experience because we are showing people things that no one has ever seen before.
So, communication is very critical. Thanks to science and people who are doing research, we are learning why every species is playing a role in the environment.
It’s very important for us to understand what role it plays and how we can maximize that and eventually protect them.
Do you ever think of retiring? Me, retire (laughs)? No. For me, recharging my batteries is nonstop. The privilege in meeting people like you is giving me a chance to share what I believe that needs to be shared with anyone on the planet, just like my dad did with his films. I will never give up, never.
I want to celebrate 100 years of scuba diving, so my plan is to live 107 years. Then, we will see what happens. But until then, I will continue to dive, dive, dive.
E-mail [email protected] Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.