As Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of the legendary scuba pioneer Jacques-Yves, explains, the Expedition Blue Planet water-awareness programme is her life's calling
Addressing problems through the lens of my family's legacy is natural.
Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of legendary marine explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, has come to Cambodia on Expedition Blue Planet.
"Expedition Blue Planet is a 100-day journey around the world, looking at different water stories," explained Cousteau.
"Water is our life-support system. Our planet is primarily covered in water, and it is also responsible for driving the life cycle."
Thus far, the expedition has taken Cousteau to the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, the Ganges, the Jordan River, Botswana's Okavango Delta, the Mississippi River and the Red Sea.
The expedition is being undertaken by Cousteau's organization, Blue Legacy, which aims to increase awareness of water issues.
"The mission of Blue Legacy is to tell the story of the water on our planet in a way that helps people understand how our water resources are interconnected. As well as how, ultimately, we are all just downstream from one another," Cousteau said.
Currently, she explains, water management is based on a "philosophy of fragmentation", which makes things simpler but doesn't take into account the interconnectedness of water resources.
"We manage our lakes separately from our rivers, which we manage separately from our groundwater, separately from our coastal areas, separately from our open oceans. The fragmentation of our water resources leads to a degradation of the whole."
Blue Planet aims to increase awareness of the adverse consequences of water mismanagement.
"Our purpose is to tell these stories through multimedia that is shared online in real time.
"It is distributed to a network of media partners to create a mosaic of stories that, when taken together, illustrate what it means to live on a water planet."
The Tonle Sap is a particularly unusual case study for the expedition due to its seasonal reversal of water flow.
During the dry season, the Tonle Sap drains into the Mekong, but the surge of water during rainy season pushes the water back upstream toward the lake.
As a result, the Tonle Sap Great Lake's water coverage fluctuates drastically during the year.
It has been speculated that the fall of the Khmer Empire at Angkor was at least partly due to a mismanagement of water resources.
"Angkor had a huge infrastructure for water. It diverted water resources from hundreds of miles away and directed it to that civilisation, so they could grow enough food and have water for all their needs," Cousteau says.
Changes in weather patterns, however, led to the buildup of sediment in the water infrastructure, thus greatly impairing the flow of water.
"It was too massive a problem for them to easily fix. It weakened their society and made them vulnerable," she added.
Cousteau, who went on her first marine expedition when she was only 5 months old, has always been involved with water.
"I grew up in a family where water and the oceans were our raison d'etre. The whole focus of my family has been to communicate about these issues."
Of course, that focus continued on into Cousteau's adulthood and it is clear she is as enthusiastic as ever.
"Water has always been an incredibly important part of my life.
Addressing current challenges through the lens of my family's legacy is a natural evolution."
In an era of climate change, desertification, sea level rise, acid rain, drought, falling water tables, dead zones, and widespread pollution, water quality and quantity is ever more critical.
Diving for underwater treasures: the legacy of a pioneer
Jacques Cousteau was a French naval officer, explorer, ecologist, filmmaker, scientist, photographer, author and researcher. He’s remembered as the most famous undersea explorer ever, known for dozens of books and films from the 1950s until his death in 1997. The co-inventor of the aqualung (an underwater breathing apparatus) in 1943,
he began exploring shipwrecks, which fascinated him to no end. Cousteau also pioneered underwater photography, inventing underwater gear that was bought by Nikon. He explored the oceans of the world aboard his vessel Calypso. During his trips, he filmed numerous movies, namely The Silent World, World Without Sun, and The Golden Fish – all of which won Oscar awards.
He was also a frequent television contributor, his masterwork being The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Later in his career, after discovering that the result of atomic research was nuclear waste being dumped into the world’s bodies of water, he carried out various public campaigns against the nuclear waste dumping and nuclear experiments in general.