Alexandra Cousteau’s message to Tenerife Aguaviva

One World, one family, one legacy, that was the personal and environmental message to Tenerife from environmental advocate, Alexandra Cousteau, just as a Greenpeace report slammed Spain for over development and pollution of it’s coasts. Who better to warn of the dangers, and suggest a few remedies, than a lady whose family were born with flippers on their feet.

The name Cousteau is known throughout the world from the exploits of Jacques, the French underwater documentary maker, explorer and champion of all things aquatic. As a guest speaker at the 2007 Aguaviva festival in Tenerife to promote awareness and protection of the oceans, the surname was enough to attract a packed conference hall of the media and those with shared environmental concerns. It is not a burden to Alexandra but an inspiration and a legacy she feels duty bound to continue. “It was only back in 1990 when working for the Environment television channel that I really caught up with the full history of my grand fathers work” she said in perfect English with a slight American lilt. Alexandra addressed the meeting in fluent Spanish but could also have drawn on equally impressive French, all learnt during early years of travel and mixed cultures.

Sea faring legacy

Born in California in 1976, Alexandra is the daughter of Philippe senior, and former American fashion model, Jan and was soon emerged into the globe trotting exploring life. “I went on my first family expedition at just four months old to the Easter Islands and after that I went to Kenya, Uganda and Egypt.”

Tragedy struck in 1979 when Philippe senior, an accomplished diver and photographer was killed in a flying boat crash in Portugal. Mother Jan brought up Alexander and Philippe junior in California and although they spent quite a bit of time in Connecticut and Paris, Alexandra went to school in Georgetown before moving up to it’s University to study political science.

After graduating in 1998, the world again opened up to her and she travelled widely, sharpening up her language skills along the way and did introduction work for the Environment channel.

Earth Echo, speaks to the World

In 2000 everything came together when along with brother Philippe, Alexandra founded Earth Echo International to further the family commitment to science, education and advocacy. “We felt it was important to form our own movement as we wanted to work independently of other organisations at the cutting edge of conservation with a set up that complimented our long held family beliefs.”

Earth Echo has reached out around the world to spread the environmental message particularly among the young. A series of international education programmes and strong links with groups in Europe and Latin America have helped to further the cause. Spreading the word has seen her address the United Nations, Unesco, Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution. Earlier in 2007, Alexandra was given the honorary title of Earth trustee by the United Nations, to reflect her contribution to marine preservation.

Home truths for Tenerife

The audience may have been less illustrious and smaller in Los Cristianos, Tenerife, a fishing village that has swelled into a major tourist centre, but Alexandra made her case with passion and commitment. Appropriately the hotel conference room was adorned with stunning images of the sea taken by locally Alex & Sergiobased photographer Sergio Hanquet (with Alex in pic). The local mayor was among the dignitaries seated at the top table with pride of place reserved in the middle for the visitor. Cutting through formality and setting an informal tone for the speech, Alexandra grabbed a microphone and perched on the end of the table.

The talk was wide ranging from the tell tale ocean damage caused to dolphins skins in Florida to the plastics that are so prevalent in the Atlantic that young albatross have been found with their skeletons containing traces of the material. With fishing and tourism the mainstays of the Tenerife economy, Alexandra called upon those present to choose carefully where they bought their tuna and prawns in restaurants and to send a clear financial message by making the responsibly caught ones the most popular. Individual choice and influence were key elements of her speech and the need to show share holders that the green option is good for them financially as well as better for the planet.

After the conference, there was a chance to enjoy some of the 30 attractions and events set up for the 4 day Aguaviva festival including stalls from other environmental groups, around the main square. One of the Artmore curious sites was a sculpture (left) by Gran Canarian artist, Agoney Santana. As part of the preamble to the festival, a stretch of rocky coast and sea was blitzed by a volunteer clean up team and produced 6,000 kilos of rubbish. The larger metal objects were collected and displayed in four large perspex cases in the heart of the tourist zone, a sad reminder of the disregard many show to their home environment.

Back at her hotel, Alexandra expanded on some of her driving motives. “At Earth Echo we believe in action, everything we do makes a difference, no matter how little. We want people to make their contribution and to use their power as consumers to make big business realise their responsibilities. Just recycling, using eco friendly cleaning materials and shopping around for thoughtfully produced goods all goes to make change.”

Questions raised during the open session after the speech had shown there was clearly a lot of local concern for practices in Spain and within Tenerife. Asked about Spanish fishing policy, Alexandra referred to it as “lagging behind and predatory”. Others queried the affect of commercial ferries in the local port.

Maybe most telling was the fact that the Aguaviva festival and Alexandra’s visit were framed by damming Greenpeace reports, the one before criticising Spain in general and the one a few days after identifying 20 illegal water pollution sites in and around the Tenerife capital of Santa Cruz. Many more tides will ebb and flow before the worlds oceans can be saved from destruction.

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