‘I’m passionate about the ocean’: Céline Cousteau on diving off the Americas

Céline Cousteau loves diving at the cenotes in the Yucatán

People always think that my grandfather Jacques or father [oceanographic explorer] Jean-Michel were my main influences. But my mother was a great influence too. She was an expedition photographer and from when I was about nine and living in France she travelled for around three months of the year – I used to swing by her office and see her leaning over the light table looking at slides from her latest expedition. It was natural to see all these far-flung places brought back home.

I’m passionate about the ocean and its conservation. I spent time recently in Cancun, Mexico with the Mesoamerican Reef Leadership Program. It’s the second largest reef system on the planet and there are scientists working on amazing projects, replanting coral and trying to understand its resilience to shifts in ocean activity. It’s crucial work – coral is such an important ecosystem in terms of sustaining life.

Céline Cousteau.
Céline Cousteau. Photograph: Capkin van Alphen/CauseCentric Productions

Cancun is a tourist centre, but get off the beaten track and there are wonderful things to explore. I’d recommend the underwater sculpture park by Jason deCaires Taylor, which snorkellers can see from above, divers from below. It creates miniature reef systems for animals to congregate in – a great way of using art as conservation.

I was never keen on the idea of diving in caves, I like having an exit above me, but the cenotes (the underwater caves) in the Yucatán are magical. Rays of light come in from the outside, it’s simply beautiful.

Diving in Cabo Pulmo feels like swimming in an aquarium. This little town in the far south of Mexico’s Baja California is basically a community of fisherman families who realised they were over-fishing their own backyard and created a marine protected area. They fish outside the protected section for commercial purposes and inside for what they can feed their family. Over the past decade or so they’ve seen it return to its baseline state of health, it’s amazing. And tourists come for diving now so the locals’ economic well-being and food source are secured.

Cabo Pulmo, Mexico
Cabo Pulmo, Baja California, Mexico. Photograph: Alamy

I have a lifelong connection to the Amazon. I flew down there with my grandfather to spend two weeks on his boat, the Calypso, when I was nine. My entire family were somewhere in the Amazon – my mother on a land expedition, my father and brother on a raft on another river. It really opened my eyes to another world. If we can give children an opportunity to experience other places and cultures in whatever way they can it profoundly changes who we are as adults.

The Amazon tests you on a physical, emotional and mental level. I’ve been working on a film and engagement campaign called Tribes on the Edge in the Brazilian Amazon for years and it will be released this year. It will tell the story of the tribes of the Vale do Javari indigenous territory. It’s a complex area to work in – 85,000sq km of jungle. We’d go for two to three weeks at a time. There’s a romantic notion of what such a place is like, but the reality is it’s a very intense place to be.

School of yellowtail surgeonfish on the reef off Cabo Pulmo
A large school of yellowtail surgeonfish on the reef off Cabo Pulmo Photograph: Alamy

There’s an incredible duality to tribal life. The people still hunt and fish for their food in the way they always have, but sometimes use guns instead of blowpipes and have a generator that comes on at 8pm and then house music starts pumping at one end of the village. But they are still connected to their ecosystem in a way that those of us who walk on concrete have forgotten.

Céline’s grandfather, Jacques Cousteau
Céline’s grandfather, Jacques Cousteau. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

The place I was most surprised by was the southern tip of Chile. I know a lot of people dream of going there, but I’m not one for cold climates. But I was in awe. The nuances of the change of light on the ice and diving around an iceberg that is older than one can imagine puts you in your place as a very small being in time and space! It’s good to be humbled by nature like that.

My son is four and until he was two he travelled everywhere with us – Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, the Galápagos. Now he’s at nursery; giving him stability is important … it’s about balancing the romantic side of what my life is about with what a small human needs.
Céline Cousteau is ambassador of the TreadRight Foundation (treadright.org), a not-for-profit body established by TTC (ttc.com) to encourage sustainable tourism within its family of brands, including Contiki, Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Uniworld and Red Carnation Hotels

[SOURCE :-theguardian]