What do you do for a living?
First and foremost, I am a storyteller. I have dedicated my life to inspiring people to recognize the power they have to help build a healthy, abundant, and hopeful ocean planet. Books, documentaries, TV series, and education are just platforms for me to tell those stories.
From diving with sharks to searching for pirate treasure, you’ve had some epic adventures. Do any stand out?
One of my favorite adventures was a documentary I cohosted with my wife, Ashlan, for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week a few years ago. It’s called Nuclear Sharks, and we went to the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where the United States detonated its largest nuclear device while conducting tests during the 1950s. This bomb, Castle Bravo, exploded with a force 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima. It devastated everything for miles around, but 60 years later we heard rumors that shark populations had recovered, so we set out to see if it was true, and, indeed, sharks swarmed us everywhere. For sharks to thrive, the entire ecosystem has to be healthy. I love that expedition because it reminds us that the ocean is incredibly resilient.
How do you think travel can help people understand the importance of conservation?
My grandfather Jacques Cousteau always said, “We can only protect what we love, and we can only love what we know.” Travel can give us an opportunity to see the beauty of a coral reef or the majesty of a rainforest. Those experiences can open a window for people into nature; they can spark the imagination and inspire people to care about something they may not even have known existed. I founded EarthEcho International 15 years ago, and we have become a leading global environmental education organization working with youth around the world.
What place is at the top of your bucket list?
Without a doubt, Antarctica. It’s the most important ecosystem on earth, because it, along with the Arctic, regulates our climate (the poles act like the air conditioning unit of the planet), provides the basis for entire ocean food chains, and is the only continent I have never visited. I’m on a board of global leaders, Antarctica 2020, that’s working to establish a large marine protected area around Antarctica that, when it happens, will be the single largest act of conservation in history. On top of that, Ashlan has already been, so I’m a little jealous.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve sat next to on a United flight?
I sat next to Owen Wilson on a flight to Hawaii. I am not a big talker on flights, but I couldn’t resist saying hello, because the character he played in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was based on my father. We had a good time as he shared stories about his experiences on the film.
Which famous person—living or dead—would be your dream seatmate?
That’s an easy one: my father. He was killed in a tragic accident six months before I was born. I have spent my life trying to get to know him by following in the footsteps of his work. There is no one I would rather sit next to than him.
Next Up: Philippe Cousteau Jr. On Leaving A Legacy Without Leaving A Trace