| THE FUTURE ACCORDING TO COUSTEAU|
Who wants a world in which whales are toxic waste? he asks Nigel Eaton
It is not surprising that a diver with Jean-Michel Cousteau's background has strong views about the future of diving. "To have a future ourselves, we must protect the future of the seas we dive in," the seasoned environmentalist told Diver during a recent interview in France. "I believe that in the next century we need to focus on five key issues - and develop solutions."
Trained as an architect, Jean-Michel has been involved since the mid-1960s with the production of many of the famous "Cousteau" underwater documentaries. In 1979 he joined forces with his late father to develop the Cousteau Society and, despite well-publicised disputes with his father - and later the Cousteau Society - following the death of his mother in 1990, his has been a powerful voice in support of marine conservation ever since.
"Our first target must be improving the health of all the waters that we depend on to survive," he said. "Pollutants that we dump into the water system are returned to us through the food we eat. On land, available clean water is being mismanaged on a global scale. Disputes and even wars will intensify over water resources if we don't clean things up.
"Secondly, we must look at our coastal habitats. For many marine species - as well as birds and land animals - estuaries, marshlands and mangroves are vital sites for refuge, reproduction and feeding. We must find ways to protect and restore these fragile places."
In March last year, Jean-Michel's conservation group, the California-based Jean-Michel Cousteau Institute, merged with the Free Willy Keiko Foundation (formed to rehabilitate the killer whale which starred in the hit movie) to create the Ocean Futures Society. The famous whale is still convalescing and Jean-Michel sees Keiko's battle to regain health and liberty as symbolic of the struggle currently faced by all marine mammals.
"Whales, in particular, are an issue, because they are great indicators of the health of the ocean," he says, pointing out that populations of some species such as killer whales are not on the increase, even though they are protected by international law.
"Toothed whales eat at the top of the food chain and we find some animals with such high toxicity levels that not only is their ability to reproduce impaired but, according to US federal regulations, they would qualify as "toxic waste'."
Better management of fish stocks is the fourth issue highlighted by Jean-Michel. Typically, his approach is realistic. He speaks of "action partnerships with businesses, industries and governments" and describes how food species such as shrimps can be easily farmed in tanks. "There may be some loss of natural flavour," he says, "but we can live with that".
Jean-Michel's final concern is one of particular interest to divers. "Coral reefs are being lost," he says. "Already 10 per cent have been destroyed and another 25 to 40 per cent may be lost in the next 25 years."
Ocean Futures will, he says, dedicate itself to finding ways to conserve these habitats, which, "although they comprise only 0.1 per cent of the surface of the ocean, have the richest biodiversity anywhere on earth".
Beyond these conservation issues - all being championed by Ocean Futures - Jean-Michel Cousteau sees exciting possibilities for divers. Referring to the work of the acclaimed shark researcher Eugenie Clark, he ends on a scientific note:
"There are many creatures living in the deep and not-so-deep seas which have not yet been documented. In the coming decades, there will be great finds to be made. I think the numbers will be huge - not in terms of the volume of individuals, but in terms of the volume of species."