A hopeful start for our oceans

    It costs nothing to be a cynic. It also happens to be in fashion these days and makes a great excuse for doing just about nothing. The innate feeling that there will be impending failure before anything even happens seems to have taken over and rewired our neurobiology. Whether the topic is politics, business, or the environment — especially the environment — we often unintentionally doom the outcome by expecting failure.

    But there is another side somewhere within us that is unwilling to give up. That side is the bastion that generates the creation of miracles, even when faced with what feels like insurmountable odds. It’s called hope.

    Hope is the entire reason our species has survived, even thrived, beyond all odds. Most movies, novels, inventions, and relationships begin with far-fetched glimmers of hope. My grandfather, Jacques Yves Cousteau, once said: “If we were only logical creatures, the future would look bleak indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings and we have faith, and we have hope, and we can work.”

    Only a couple of weeks away, I look to the upcoming Rio+20 with great hope. It was in 1992, at the first and original Rio Earth Summit, that my grandfather spoke his powerful words, and where a 12-year-old girl named Severn Suzuki gave a remarkable speech about the deterioration of our planet. Both are remembered because their messages were clear, concise and free of jargon. What was true then is true today: The very decisions made at Rio will shape the future of our existence. While we still face the same mounting challenges that we did 20 years ago, we now have new technologies, research and data at our disposal, as well as a greater public awareness of our role within the ecosystem. Better yet, we now have another secret weapon: social media and the ability to digitally connect with people that we’d never have the opportunity to meet in person.

    For me, one of the most exciting aspects of Rio+20 is that we will finally see some representation of, and conversations about, our oceans. As the vast majority of our planet and the very circulatory system from which all life depends on, our oceans are desperately overdue for a front row seat. Their situation is dire: almost 60 percent of the world’s total fish stocks since the 1950s have been wiped out (with over 80 percent of remaining stocks fully exploited, over exploited or depleted), including some 90 percent of pelagic species. We face enigmatic climate-related problems such as a 25 percent increase in ocean acidification; more severe and frequent coral bleaching events, and the constant oozing of man-made chemicals and solid waste, such as the million pounds of plastics dumped every hour.

    It is high time for our governments to gather in unity to draw up and enforce draconian measures to protect and restore our blue life-support system. Even a seemingly endless expanse such as the ocean cannot continue to sustain such immense punishment. Our beloved bodies of water are now showing how fragile they really are. Whether we see oceans as a natural resource bank account, a key component of our health and well-being, or as a heritage for our children, it is imperative that we include them in our march to a better future.

    I propose we use every tool at our disposal to start spreading the word about the importance of protecting our oceans to each and every person we encounter. And let’s create more marine-protected areas, so we can ensure our “bank account” will generate enough interest to invest in the well-being of future generations. Let’s each take it upon ourselves to do one thing each day to improve these massive water bodies. Let’s reduce our use of single-serving plastic containers, stop pouring our expired pharmaceuticals down the drain and eat the seafood that is truly sustainable. Instead of cleaning up beaches, let’s not litter in the first place. Let’s share our better habits with our friends, colleagues and family, using all the means available to us: email, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+ Pinterest and more.

    I truly believe long-term ocean protection and preservation can and will happen but only once people are willing to shed the cynicism and embrace hope as the fuel to change the course we set for ourselves.

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    About the author

    • Fabien Cousteau

      With a degree in environmental economics from Boston University, aquatic filmmaker and oceanographic explorer Fabien Cousteau has refined a public policy platform grounded by his strong belief that environmental discipline can be the basis for innovative solutions that strike a balance between global environmental problems and the realities of market economies. In 2010, he launched Plant A Fish, a nonprofit organization designed to help communities restore their local water ecosystems.