Stories from the Ocean to the Amazon: Céline Cousteau

Celine Cousteau instructing an indiginous sound volunteer on how to hold the microphone while filming the Tribes on the Edge documentary in Boa Vista in the Vale do Javari, Brazil. Michael Clark Photography

“We are not apart from nature. We are a part of nature." An important message, and one that resonated with the crowd as Céline Cousteau concluded her talk at NYU Abu Dhabi with a moving film that demonstrated the adverse impact humanity is having on the natural world.

Organized by the Office of Community Outreach, in collaboration with Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program, French-American filmmaker, diver, and explorer Céline Cousteau visited the University as part of the Social Impact Leaders talk series.

Nothing was off-limits for Cousteau, a charismatic storyteller. She dove straight into topics like the interconnectedness of ecosystems and people, sustainability and traceability of seafood, human rights’ issues in the high seas, tribal culture and rituals in the Amazon rainforest, and challenges faced by indigenous people.

In a powerful moment, she showed the audience underwater pictures of herself surrounded by abundant marine life followed by a contrasting image of a polluted beach with heaps of dead fish and garbage lying on the sand.

“The irony is that behind me in this picture is a water purification plant, yet the people here are polluting both the ground and the ocean."

Capkin van Alphen/CauseCentric Productions

In her talk, Cousteau emphasized that negligent human behavior is causing environmental deterioration that, in turn, affects human life. Plastic dumped into the ocean breaks down into microscopic particles that are ingested by fish, she explained, which are then ingested by humans.

“Every fish you have has remnants of that plastic bottle, so you might want to ask why we have it in the first place.”

Unsurprisingly, she is a vocal advocate for use of re-useable water bottles instead of buying plastic. NYU Abu Dhabi is phasing out bottled water sales as part of the Sustainable Campus Initiative and encouraging students to re-fill their own bottles at water coolers and fountains.

Cousteau, who is fluent in Spanish and learning Portuguese, is also a documentary filmmaker and spends time shooting films in the Amazon Rainforest to raise awareness about the challenges faced by indigenous tribes, such as territory invasion and disease outbreak.

Rituals, dance and play are important in the tribal community, Cousteau said, because it's human connections that make up an ecosystem in a place as isolated as the Amazon.

“She sees everyone as equal," remarked NYUAD sophomore Kate Melville-Rea, who was particularly moved when Cousteau showed a picture of her son and a picture of a tribal girl side-by-side. There's no difference between these two, Cousteau emphasized, both are worth a human life.

Students and Cousteau gather for a group shot in The Marketplace.