“We are in a unique institution on the planet,” said Jean-Michel Cousteau, referring to the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET) at the Columbus Center in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The son of legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau, the younger Cousteau has devoted his own life to ocean exploration and advocacy for environmental awareness and sustainability in seafood.
Cousteau in Baltimore
Cousteau visited IMET on Oct. 9, presenting a lecture on the state of the oceans, his own devotion to saving them, and the unique contributions of IMET and its scientists. IMET is a University System of Maryland institution, a partnership between University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).
“There are seven billion people who are taking more from the ocean than the ocean can produce,” Cousteau told his audience that evening, gathered in the Columbus Center’s soaring atrium overlooking the Inner Harbor. The ocean “is heading toward bankruptcy. This institution can produce food in a sustainable way. It can produce energy in a sustainable way. It is a privilege to feel that I have a mission, and my mission is to share what this institution is doing to help our species.”
Marine Life Conservation and Sustainability
IMET’s research scientists are studying new techniques in marine life conservation and sustainability. They are pioneering new methods of raising blue crabs and oysters – Chesapeake Bay species that are struggling to survive. They are breeding and raising highly desirable breeds of fish, including dorado – prized by chefs but declining in nature because of overfishing. The institute’s scientists have even begun to provide limited numbers of such desirable types of fish to top Baltimore restaurants, including those of Chef Cindy Wolf, such as Charleston, Cinghiale, and Petit Louis Bistro. University of Maryland School of Medicine faculty are using the marine life raised at IMET to study human health as well.
Aquaculture Research Center
Yonathan Zohar, PhD, professor and chair at UMBC, and other researchers in IMET’s Aquaculture Research Center are producing fish using a completely sustainable, closed cycle in which the fish are conceived, hatched, and raised within the confines of tanks using specially purified water. The fish are fed special food developed at IMET and made of plants – ordinary fish food is made of fish protein. The scientists are even exploring new ways of making biofuel using algae and the waste produced by the fish, a possible new, sustainable energy source. It is this research – under the eye of IMET Director and UMCES Professor Russell Hill, PhD, that Cousteau lauded in his presentation that evening.
Impact on Oceans
Cousteau’s lecture and multimedia presentation included old films of his father’s adventures that the son found in the attic of the house in France in which he grew up. Cousteau began by describing the way that the oceans are impacted by pollution from chemicals and solid waste such as garbage. Seabirds are found dying, their stomachs stuffed with plastic. The fish that humans eat are contaminated by chemicals. The best way to prevent this type of damage in the future, Cousteau said, is by educating the next generation of humankind.
Many children grow up afraid of the oceans, of their depth and creatures living within them, such as great white sharks. “This, the nastiest fish in the ocean, is not what we think, not what we make it,” Cousteau said, introducing a video of himself carefully holding the dorsal fin of a wild great white shark and letting it pull him through the water. Such creatures “have a role to play, and we are visitors. I want to realize it, and to understand that what we need to do is to protect those species that have been overfished. We need to protect ourselves, and to protect ourselves, we need to protect this environment.”
Ocean Futures Society
Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society is aimed at just this goal. Cousteau founded the nonprofit marine conservation and education organization in 1999 “so that young people – the decision-makers of tomorrow – and their teachers can learn about the treasures that have been set aside for them” in the sea, he said.
Cousteau closed his lecture with thanks to the IMET team for welcoming him into their facilities and educating him about their sustainability and conservation research. “Every time I come here,” he said, “I recharge my batteries and I go out and tell the world, ‘yes, we can, yes, we will.'”