Alexandra Cousteau receives Stroud Award for Freshwater Excellence
By Steven Hoffman
Alexandra Cousteau was pleased to receive the Stroud Award for Freshwater Excellence at the Waters Edge Gala at Longwood Gardens last Thursday night. But what really excited her was the tour of the Stroud Water Research Center in Avondale, and a firsthand look at the work that the scientists at Stroud are doing to promote good stewardship of fresh water.
Cousteau is the granddaughter of the world famous French explorer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau, and the daughter of Philippe Cousteau, both influential champions of the ocean. She has followed in their footsteps, working as an advocate for the environment and traveling the world to talk about the importance of conservation and sustainable management of water resources.
Cousteau was a born explorer and a natural adventurer who feels right at home in the water.
“Ever since I was little, it was just a part of my life and part of what we did,” Cousteau explained. “I could swim before I could walk.”
It was her famous grandfather who taught her how to dive during a trip in the Mediterranean Sea when she was just seven years old.
“When I shuffled to the edge of the boat in my little, red, rubber fins and peered down into the water, I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to die,’ ” she explained.
She didn’t. Instead, she discovered a passion and a purpose that would become a major part of her life.
“When I looked up, I saw the sunlight shimmering through the water. Then I saw a school of fish swimming toward me. They enveloped me for a moment and when I put my hand out they would move away in unison and I thought, ‘This is so cool.’ I had a sense of awe and wonder.”
Cousteau continues her family’s legacy by sharing that sense of awe and wonder with others. She has been a keynote speaker on environmental issues throughout the world. She co-founded EarthEcho International with her brother, Philippe Cousteau, Jr., and through Blue Legacy, a nonprofit organization she founded in 2009, she tells personal stories that explore fresh water and ocean issues.
“We inhabit a water planet, and unless we protect, manage, and restore that resource, the future will be a very different place from the one we imagine today,” Cousteau explained.
Her goal is to inspire and empower people to reclaim and restore water resources, which mirrors the work that is being done by leading scientists at the Stroud Center.
According to Bernard W. Sweeney, Ph.D., the director of Stroud Water Research Center, it was Cousteau's work as an advocate for protecting water resources that made her a good candidate to receive the Stroud Award for Freshwater Excellence. Each year, since 2011, the Stroud Center has conferred the award to someone who has made an outstanding contribution that protects freshwater resources, improves the quantity and quality of fresh water, or helps secure clean, fresh water for future generations.
Cousteau and her husband have two children under the age of five, and one thing that motivates her is the goal of protecting the environment for future generations.
When she travels around doing her work, she finds many places—too many places—where there isn't a sufficient supply of clean water for children to swim in, drink from, and fish in.
Climate change is another major concern. She noted that 2015 will go down as the hottest year on record, and the impact of climate change is felt in many different ways.
“Climate change is terrifying to me,” Cousteau explained. “What we stand to lose breaks my heart. Not being able to give my daughter and my son the world that I had when I was a child breaks my heart. That grief is felt by a lot of people. I think the conversation about climate change is developing, and hopefully it is developing quickly enough.”
During a tour of the facilities, Cousteau was shown some of Stroud Center’s citizen science water monitoring tools, such as Monitor My Watershed, part of the Wiki Watershed online suite that will allow people across the country to explore what is known about their regional watershed. She also learned about EnviroDIY, an online network hosted by Stroud Center, where people can collaborate to create affordable, open-source data loggers and sensors that enable them to monitor water quality locally. Cousteau was also introduced to Stroud Center’s Leaf Pack Experiment Stream Ecology Kit that teaches people how to assess water quality by noting the numbers and types of aquatic insects that colonize leaf packs.
She was impressed with the work that the scientists at Stroud are doing, and said that the potential advancements that give citizens the ability to monitor the quality of the water is “what I've been dreaming about, thinking about, and writing about.”
Cousteau added, “We can’t depend on the Jacques Cousteaus of the world. We have to take responsibility ourselves. We have to make it easy and provide affordable technology to help people monitor water and report those results. We have to make it exciting and translate science in ways that will inspire people to be a part of the solution. And the work that Stroud Center is doing is an answer to that challenge.”
Cousteau said that she would like to plan a return visit to the Stroud Water Research Center with her family to learn more about the projects that scientists are working on.
“I’m tremendously excited about the work that Stroud is doing,” she said.