Scanning the banks of the Ohio River on Thursday, just downstream from Point State Park, Jean-Michel Cousteau spotted a mother goose paddling along the shore with her four fuzzy, yellow babies.
“What you’re looking at here is the strength of nature,” said Cousteau, the environmentalist son of late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, as he boarded the Pittsburgh Voyager’s flagship educational boat docked behind the Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore.
In town as the featured speaker at the Voyager’s annual fund-raising luncheon, Cousteau, 67, toured the fleet yesterday after sharing his ocean adventures and visions for the future with a crowd of 280 at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown.
Cousteau, founder of the nonprofit marine conservation organization Ocean Futures Society, first visited Pittsburgh about 30 years ago.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years,” Cousteau said.
“Then, the rivers were a giant cesspool and the industry – mostly steel – was in disarray. There were a lot of sad people, and you probably would not have the happy people you have today if the rivers were still like that”.
“But we need to stop using the water system as a universal sewer,” he said.
“We have a tendency to take all of this for granted, but everything is connected.”
Though protecting the oceans and the coral reefs within them is his organization’s main focus, Cousteau stressed that safeguarding the seas begins thousands of miles inland.
“Being here for me is like swimming up into the roots of the ocean,” he said.
“More than ever, a great deal of my concentration … is to make this vital link that exists between the river systems and the oceans.”
To save the oceans that he has explored since age 7 – when his father threw him overboard with newly invented scuba gear strapped to his back – Cousteau said it is most important to stop urban and agricultural runoff, halt the destruction of coastal habitats, and end unsustainable fish harvesting.
He also stressed the importance of educating children with programs like the Pittsburgh Voyager, which has taken 50,000 children on field research excursions since its inception in 1995.
Throughout his visit he chatted and joked with elementary school students and played an amusing educational program he recorded with Pixar that included animated fish from the children’s film “Finding Nemo.”
Despite traveling to some of the world’s most pristine rainforests and colorful coral reefs, Cousteau could not name a favorite destination.
“My favorite spot is the planet — if I had to be stuck somewhere, I would die,” Cousteau said from one of the Voyager boats, gesturing toward Mt. Washington.
“I always want to see new places. I want to see what is on the other side of that hill.”