July 23rd, 2010
10:49 AM ET

Gulf dispatch: Time to tap power of teens

Editor's note: Philippe Cousteau Jr. is the grandson of legendary ocean explorer and filmmaker Jacques Yves Cousteau. Philippe heads the nonprofit organization EarthEcho International (www.earthecho.org). Philippe, who has been working in this field for years, is an advocate for the people and the wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. During the oil crisis, he has visited the area and learned firsthand the impact the disaster has had on the ecosystem and on the people who have been affected by the catastrophe. Read more about Philippe's background.

If there is one consistent sentiment I have heard from people in the Gulf throughout the many trips I have made there, it is frustration.

As the greatest man-made environmental disaster in the country continues to wreak havoc on the Gulf, there is a sense of anger that the general populace has not been able to engage and be a meaningful part of the solution. Thousands of locals who feel a sense of ownership and love for these communities and are eager to act, are forced to watch helplessly as people with no real ties to the area are bused in to do the work. There is a rich tapestry of culture woven along the coast and a resilient people who have overcome some of the worst natural disasters in this country and emerged more determined than ever to rebuild their lives.

When Katrina, Gustav and other hurricanes ravaged the region, the storms passed in a few days and people could start restoring their lives. This oil spill keeps coming and coming and people are given little if anything to do and no group is being more neglected than youth.

I travel all over the country speaking to young people and I am always amazed at how engaged in environmental conservation they are. Of course they are the ones that will inherit the environmental disasters that we create now and thus one could argue that they have the most at stake.

We have countless youth across the country who understand the challenges we face and are just waiting to be empowered to participate. I have reported for news, filmed documentaries, written articles and blogs, testified to Congress on the need to invest in research and science as well as smart regulatory reform… but I argue that above all else we must also invest in education. FULL POST

July 16th, 2010
10:55 AM ET

Gulf Dispatch: Diving through oil at critical relief time

Editor's note: Philippe Cousteau Jr. is the grandson of legendary ocean explorer and filmmaker Jacques Yves Cousteau. Philippe heads the nonprofit organization EarthEcho International (www.earthecho.org). Philippe, who has been working in this field for years, is an advocate for the people and the wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. During the oil crisis, he has visited the area and learned first hand the impact the disaster has had on the ecosystem and on the people who have been affected by the catastrophe. Read more about Philippe's background.

It was 7:00 a.m. and the heat and humidity were already rising in the bayou as marsh grasses raced passed us.

On this trip to southern Louisiana, I was accompanied by a good friend and executive vice president of the Ocean Conservancy, Denny Kelso. I am on the board of the Ocean Conservancy and proud of the work we have done as the oldest nationally focused ocean conservation organization in the country.

Philippe Cousteau Jr. and Denny Kelso, executive vice president of the Ocean Conservancy, examine oiled marshes in Louisiana.

Getting the chance to work with Denny is always a privilege because, aside from being a longtime leader in the conservation field, he was also commissioner for the environment of the state of Alaska during the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and he has a wealth of knowledge like no other.

As we entered the 85th day of the oil spill Denny’s familiar refrain was wringing true… “We have to start thinking about restoration now…we can’t wait.”

We had come with CNN International to film oil encroaching into the fragile marsh, dive through the oil and talk about the need for restoration now.

We slowed the boat as we reached our destination. Black oil coated the shoreline of these fragile marshes and already the grass was dying. As we gear up for the fall bird migration, this was a worrisome sight to say the least.

This oiled marsh was a perfect example of just how serious this oil spill is as it moves into a new stage, and it reminds us of how vigilant we have to be in our response and how critical it is to get it right the first time.

FULL POST

July 1st, 2010
12:48 PM ET

Gulf Dispatch: Gulf oil disaster proves reform is needed now

Editor's note: Philippe Cousteau Jr. is the grandson of legendary ocean explorer and filmmaker Jacques Yves Cousteau. Philippe heads the nonprofit organization EarthEcho International (www.earthecho.org). Philippe, who has been working in this field for years, is an advocate for the people and the wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico during the oil crisis, visiting the area and learning first hand the impact the disaster has had not only on the ecosystem but on the people who suffer as a result of the catastrophe. Read more about Philippe's background.

I remember my first trip to see the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. A few weeks after the rig exploded I traveled to survey the spill both above and below the surface. Seeing the impact from the shore as well as being the first one to dive and film the oil spill from beneath the waves was a horrifying experience. Wave after wave of oil/chemical dispersant mix washed over us - a chemical soup that is toxic to countless creatures and still spreading through the Gulf, wreaking havoc on the lives of animals and the livelihoods of people.

It was made all the worse because less than 18 months earlier, in partnership with the Ocean Conservancy, I had testified in front of the House Natural Resources Committee to address the deficiencies of the laws that govern oil and gas development in the oceans. The echo of that testimony is still haunting me as I have watched the devastation unfold first-hand over the past 70 days.

One of my favorite writers Mark Twain once wrote, "A man's first duty is to his conscience and his honor." There is no honor in this catastrophe, and its consequences are unconscionable. Nor is there honor in the circumstances that created it.

There is a lot of talk in the media about the moratorium the Obama administration recently put in place; but the truth is that a moratorium would not have prevented this tragedy. What I testified about more than a year ago and what is still needed today is to reform and strengthen the existing laws to ensure that they protect ocean health and coastal economies, and that science - not profit - should guide any oil and gas development.

This spill reminds us we are in desperate need of a policy that recognizes that in our ocean environment, everything is connected - from industrial uses to the health of our ocean and the health of the coastal economy. The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster exposes a fundamental flaw in our nation's approach to oil and gas activities in the ocean.

FULL POST

June 25th, 2010
02:38 PM ET

Gulf Dispatch: An aerial view of ruthless oil's impact

Philippe Cousteau, Gov. Charlie Crist and others fly over the oil disaster.

Editor's note: Philippe Cousteau Jr. is the grandson of legendary ocean explorer and filmmaker Jacques Yves Cousteau. Philippe heads the nonprofit organization EarthEcho International (www.earthecho.org).

Thump-thump-thump went the heavy blades as I felt the Black Hawk slowly start to whir to life and heave its hulking weight forward.

As a part of my mission to tell the stories of what is going on in the Gulf states affected by the oil crisis, I had been told we would take a helicopter trip out to survey the Florida and Alabama coasts, but I had not expected to travel in one of these huge military machines so familiar to anyone who watches modern Hollywood war movies.

Across from me was Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, and next to him sat Gen. Douglas Burnett, the director of the Florida National Guard.

As the ground slowly fell away from us, I peered out into the glaring midday sun and braced myself for the worst.

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that waking up early is not my favorite thing to do, especially when four or five hours of sleep has been the norm over the past several weeks.

However, a 5:45 a.m. wakeup call is made all the worse when instead of birds singing, the only morning greeting is the slight smell of noxious oil hanging in the air and the sight of thick black muck slowly seeping into what would otherwise be beautiful fine white sand.

Unfortunately, that has become the usual for many of the people who live along the Gulf these days, and so it was for me.

Now I was flying in a machine designed for war, only this time it was not hunting any human adversary. Instead, our mission was to fly reconnaissance over a different type of enemy, one that has no rifles, no rockets, no tanks, but that has nonetheless infiltrated our country as effectively as any spy and as ruthlessly as any guerrilla warrior.

The oil that we have grown addicted to has now reared its ugly head and is slowly laying waste to a huge swath of our country.

As we flew over the Florida coast and made our way toward Alabama, we could see patches of thick orange oil interspersed with sheen dotted throughout the water beneath us. FULL POST