Phillippe Coustaeu and the World’s Oceans

Show Summary – February 9, 2009


Sharon observed that she’s mostly talked about fresh water because it is immediately important to each of us but that today, we are going to talk about oceans, the source of our fresh water and just as important. She noted that today’s first guest, Philippe Cousteau, has dedicated his life to the Earth’s ecosystem and to protecting its oceans.

Guest: Philippe Cousteau, Jr.

Philippe Cousteau, Jr. (Washington, DC), EarthEcho International, “Education to Protect Our Oceans.”

Philippe Cousteau, Junior, is the son of Philippe Cousteau, Senior, and the grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Philippe, Jr. was born in 1979, the same year his father died in a boat crash. With his sister, he is co-founder of EarthEcho International, which produces educational programs about oceans and the environment.

Sharon asked what is the most important educational message his group is trying to get across. Philippe stated, as Sharon often does, that the oceans are the source of all life on the planet since fresh water ultimately comes from the oceans. He said that we must be aware that everything we do and every lifestyle choice we make effects the ecosystem. We therefore must live so that our impact is positive. Regarding water, we cannot live without it (although we can live without petroleum). Sadly, people tend to forget this. Unlike drinking water, the oceans are often out of sight and people tend not to think about them. But they must be protected if we are going to protect our fresh water.

Sharon asked about bell-weather endangered species and Philippe mentioned the leatherback sea turtle, which is endangered from unsustainable fishing with huge nets, the poaching of its eggs as a delicacy, beachfront development, etc. They can be saved but they tend to migrate huge distances (California to Japan), so considerable international cooperation would be required.

Are the oceans warming? Philippe says yes, especially in the tropics, which is causing great problems with the health of coral reefs, a source of marine life. Climate change in the last 150 years has never been so rapid. The oceans absorb about 50% of human carbon emissions in the air but they cannot keep this up indefinitely. The result is oceanic acidification, which makes it difficult for shellfish and mollusks to build shells. Since these creatures are mostly at or near the bottom of the food chain, the reverberations are huge (whales eat a tiny shrimp called “krill” almost exclusively).

Polluted fresh water that enters the ocean is also a problem. The amount of fresh water on Earth is finite but the population is growing so it is more important than ever to protect our fresh water. One person in five on Earth lives in an area with inadequate fresh water and 7% of all urban deaths trace to pollution.

Sharon asked about the economic environment, which is currently very negative. Philippe pointed out that his grandfather, while gravely concerned about the environment, got people to listen to him because he always maintained a positive attitude. A positive attitude is always helpful.

There was some discussion about the symbolism of the tides, representing the “breathing” of the Earth and suggesting that the oceans are a living organism and not stagnant. It was also noted that 70% of the earth’s surface is water and 70% of the human body is also water. The Federal budget for oceanic research is 1/1,000th that of the budget for space research.

More water facts: Each cell of the human body requires water. The average urban drinking water has been recycled seven times. The oceans are the primary source of moisture in the air, which is why most people find being near the ocean so relaxing.

Final words: The most important mission of organizations such as Earth Echo is to empower the next generations of environmental leaders.

For more information, go to Earth Echo is not a membership organization but Mr. Cousteau strongly recommends joining the Ocean Conservancy. Educating children is a prime focus of Earth Echo and Mr. Cousteau also recommends the National Environmental Education Foundation.
Second guest.

Art Bernstein, MS (Gold Hill, OR), writer and naturalist, “‘The ‘True Head,’ Lake Itasca State Park (Minnesota) and the Mississippi Headwaters.”

Art Bernstein talked about Lake Itasca State Park in Minnesota, the headwaters of the Mississippi River. He said that Lake Itasca was discovered to be the Mississippi headwaters in the 1840′s by Henry Schoolcraft, the famous Indian agent who told Longfellow about Hiawatha. The word “itasca” comes from the middle of the Latin words veritas caput, which means “true head.” Lake Itasca State Park, established in 1891, is the nation’s second oldest state park after Niagara Falls.

Lake Itasca is located in an area containing thousands upon thousands of lakes, including Red Lake and Leech Lake that are so large, you can’t see across them. The lakes were formed by remnants of the retreating continental glacier (called the “Wisconson Glacier”), 10,000 years ago, and continue far into Canada.

The point is that the lakes are all interconnected by streams, forming an immense maze. Thus, tracing the upper Mississippi through the maze to an ultimate source was a daunting task. Lake Itasca has three small creeks flowing into it but there are no lakes upstream (except for one very small pond).

The Mississippi headwaters is considered as the point of outflow from the lake, which is a small stream about four feet across (although some might consider the source of the longest feeder creek into the lake as the true Mississippi headwaters).

From Lake Itasca, the river flows in and out of nine more lakes (Lakes Irving, Bemidji, Wolf, Little Wolf, Cass, Winnibigoshish, Little Winnibigoshish, Ball Club and Black Water). The river barely misses dozens of other lakes that also feed into it. Finally, at the city of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, it becomes an actual river and continues on through Minneapolis, St. Louis and New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico.

Categories: Bodies of Water

Leave a Comment