It’s destiny that the granddaughter of Jacques-Yves Cousteau would have water in her blood, but Alexandra Cousteau’s message is that water is in everyone’s blood — that water is the connective and vital thread binding all of us to life, that without clean and healthy water, there is no life. Through her Blue Legacy foundation and role as a National Geographic explorer, Cousteau travels the world reporting on water issues — access, pollution, ocean acidification, usage and rights — and working to keep stewardship of water as a top priority.
It isn’t always easy, especially in rich countries where cheap and clean water is typically taken for granted. And despite that it’s all “water,” the challenges surrounding it are anything but of a piece. “We talk about water in such a fragmented way,” she says. “We talk about this global water crisis, but none of us really know what that means. Is it about digging wells in Africa? It is about the Pacific gyre and that garbage patch? Is it about shrinking ground water? What is it?”
To unify how people think about water, Cousteau is focusing on what she calls “watershed first” — “It brings it all together and gives people an opportunity to understand that we’re all downstream from one another and the oceans are downstream from us.”
It was a lesson she learned early. When Cousteau was seven, she spent the summer in Monte Carlo, where her grandfather was the director of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. On mornings before the museum filled with people, he would take her to the facility’s small aquarium, where they would pretend that they were steward-masters of the water world, Jacques the king, Alexandra the mermaid princess, and he explained how each of the creatures played a role, how each was connected to the other, and that their role was to take care of them all.
“That game taught me more about that world than any other,” she says.
It was also the summer he taught her to dive. It’s no surprise, then, that Jacques Cousteau is the first of his granddaughter’s heroes:
Jacques-Yves Cousteau, ocean explorer and filmmaker
My grandfather was an extraordinary man and changed the world in so many ways. He not only pulled back the curtain on 70 percent of our planet, but he invented tools for filmmaking and discovery that in many ways democratized ocean exploration. He inspired people and shaped lives across the planet. Everywhere I go, people tell me they chose to become a biologist, they chose their career, their life path, because of his work. Had he not done what he did, the world would be a very different place.
Philippe Cousteau Sr., ocean explorer and filmmaker
My father is my hero. He worked side by side with my grandfather for many years, producing many of the documentaries and winning several Emmys for his work. He was also in cosntant motion, lecturing and advocating for ocean conservation. When I look back at his work, I realize that he was identifying issues before anyone else, he could see around the curve. Tragically, he died when I was three and a half, so I didn’t know him well, but his legacy reminds me not just what I want to do, but also who I want to be.
Muhammad Yunus, economist, banker, Nobel Prize recipient for pioneering microfinance to people too poor for bank loans
Yunus is one of the great figures of our century and has completely changed how we think about social change through financial services directed to the poorest of the poor. A revolutionary idea at first, his work to invent and perfect microfinance has completely shifted a paradigm. He changed how we see the potential of billions of people. He changed the value of women, he changed their children. He’s accomplished extraordinary things.
Sandra Postel, director and founder of the Global Water Policy Project and National Geographic Freshwater Fellow
Sandra’s work is shaping the mainstream conversation we have about fresh water issues. If there’s a fundamental shift in how our society understands water — and there needs to be — it will come from the crafting of a common narrative. There are a few visionary outliers who will shape that narrative and I know Sandra is one of the most thoughtful and inspiring authorities on the subject of water that I have ever known.
William K Reilly, former EPA administrator, former president of World Wildlife Fund, founder of Aqua International, a private equity fund that invests in water and renewable energy
William Reilly is an incredible statesman, visionary, and environmental hero with a record of accomplishment on environmental issues that speak for themselves. His accomplishments are evident in his long and distinguished career, influencing policy and action on countless environmental issues – in government, industry and civil society. In today’s highly charged and polarized environment, I’ve watched him engage people from every sector and inspire them to be better, inspire them to do something, inspire them to change.
For more on Alexandra Cousteau, visit alexandracousteau.org.
Photos courtesy Alexandra Cousteau