‘Nature provides us with surprise’

‘Nature provides us with surprise’

Alexandra Cousteau shares her story during Float for Life event

Published in Sanibel-Captiva Islander July 22, 2015 issue

Alexandra Cousteau captivated a few audiences with her stories about the ocean and how exploration of the waters was discovered more than 40 years ago.

The guest speaker, who is the granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau, traveled from Berlin, Germany to speak at the Sunday, July 12, Float for Life event on Fort Myers Beach and later at the Sanibel Sea School.

Once the 75 participants of the 2nd annual Float for Life completed the first portion of the event, they gathered under a large white tent near Pink Shell Resort and Marina to listen to Alexandra share her story.

She took the audience on a journey, which involved many memories with her grandfather.

Alexandra Cousteau

Alexandra Cousteau

The voyage started in the 1950s when no one knew what was under the surface of the ocean. Although Jacques had been like James Bond as the French intelligence for the Navy, he found his true passion while on leave from the service.

“He actually encountered his passion like many of us do totally by accident,” Alexandra said. “He originally wanted to be a fighter pilot. He dreamt of flying and not diving.”

While driving on windy roads to a wedding in South France while on leave, Jacques had a really bad car accident that broke his back and took the use of both of his arms. Although the doctors wanted to amputate his arms, he refused, replying “calm down, I’m going to fix it.”

Alexandra said her grandfather worked for several months just to move his tiny pinky finger. A suggestion from a good friend of swimming in the warm waters of the Mediterranean to build his strength, furthered his recovery.

“As he looked down, he saw things that no longer exist in the Mediterranean,” she said. “He saw three to 400 pound groupers and all sorts of extraordinary marine life. He said wait ‘I want to go deeper. I want to stay longer. I want to be able to really understand what is down there.'”

When Jacques’ passion for the ocean developed, tools of exploration had not yet been created, which encouraged him to invent the aqua lung.

“He tested it and tested it and almost lost his life several times. It was an incredible thing,” Alexandra said. “When you look at exploration over the course of the past thousand years, more than anything else, it is exploration that has shaped our civilization. It’s the 1500’s when the Europeans set out from Europe and sailed around the world and conquered a few people and spread some disease. But, they began the process of globalization and finding out what is beyond their own shore.”

She said her grandfather’s tool, the aqua lung, shifted how individuals understand the world.

“He pulled back the curtain on 70 percent of this planet and showed us what was there . . . the sharks, the sea otters, the fish, the whales, the dolphins and then he helped us understand the connections that those creatures and those places have on us,” Alexandra said. “He inspired people from around the world to want to explore and discover the ocean.”

As a very tall and skinny 7 year old, she had the opportunity to go scuba diving for the first time with her grandfather. Alexandra admitted that she learned how to swim before she could walk so she was very comfortable in the water.

However, when she stood on the side of the boat looking at the black water, those feelings changed to being sacred.

“I didn’t exactly want to tell him I was scared,” Alexandra said. “So I looked up at him, he winked at me and he pushed me.”

A tentative breath was taken and then another breath, which gave her courage to swim down 20 feet. When Alexandra stopped and looked at the ocean’s surface she witnessed a school of small silver fish. With the help of a light shining through the water, she noticed the fish were swimming towards her.

“When I reached out they would move away and when I pulled my hand back they would move back in,” she explained. “It was sort of this incredible thing that I experienced and it shifted something inside of me and made me more courageous and made me more curious and made me want to go deeper and stay longer.”

Passion of learning more about the ocean and environment was instilled in Alexandra as a young girl, often times through adventures had with her grandfather.

“I like to go find what is there because in a highly regulated environment that we have created with our civilization, nature provides us with surprise. It provides us with an opportunity to not be able to suspect what is going to happen next,” she said. “I think that more than anything else, it makes us feel truly alive when we are in nature. When we are encountering the unknown and feeling amazed by it, even if it’s just a few thousand small fish, they have the ability to amaze us and become something to remember for the rest of our life.”

Although many of Alexandra’s favorite places as a young girl are no longer around, she still has hope for the ocean and land.

“Here in the United States and around the world are communities that come together and protect what they love because those places define them and those places are part of their legacy,” she said. “They come together to reclaim, restore and protect these places that they love. When enough people protect what they love at home then we can shift the moment. We can reclaim these places and pass them onto our children.”

Alexandra’s meet and greet at the Sanibel Sea School began by sharing similar stories of her grandfather and how he created the aqua lung. She then took questions from the audience, so they could direct where the conversation lead.

‘Something magical happens’

‘Something magical happens’

Float for Life event attracts larger crowd for second annual event
Published in Sanibel-Captiva Islander July 22, 2015 issue

Seventy-five individuals reunited with the ocean on Fort Myers Beach while floating on their backs in an effort for them to fall in love with the water, which in turn will encourage them to become stewards of the ocean.

Seventy-five people participated in the second annual Float for Life event on Fort Myers Beach.

Seventy-five people participated in the second annual Float for Life event on Fort Myers Beach.

“Two years ago Roy and I moved to Palm City on the east coast of Florida,” Shelley Lynch said. “The devastation of the waters and the death of marine life were so painful for us. We felt so powerless, so we decided we wanted to be apart of the solution. One day we said, ‘you know we float people for a living, let’s float them for our oceans.'”

That thought ignited the inaugural Float for Life event last year on Fort Myers Beach.

A quote from Mother Theresa, “If you ask me to march against something I won’t join you. If you ask me to march for something I will be there,” made the thought into reality. The first event attracted 55 people within six months of promoting the event last year.

“We are here to float for our waters, marine life, for our eco system that supports us and gives so much to us,” Lynch told the 75 participants this year through tearful eyes. “This topic is so emotional and passionate for me that I want to cry because it is so important.”

Lynch grew up on the Florida coast in a little town when kids were able to roam freely. She spent countless hours on the beach, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the intercostal waters that were lined with massive mangroves that were used to play make believe house.

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“It was really where I fell in love with the ocean,” Lynch said. “I feel like it was my third parent. It was my solace.”

Her husband, Roy Desjarlais grew up on the canals of Cape Coral where he spent countless hours finding ways to be in or near the water.

“The love of the water became ingrained very early,” he said. “So that is really the heart and passion for me when it comes to Float for Life. We are both therapist wanting to help people.”

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The participants separated into groups of three and headed for the ocean near Pink Shell Resort and Marina Sunday, July 12. Each member of the group floated for 10 minutes while the other two group members provided assistance with their head and legs.

“We want things to be on a really positive note when you connect with the water. When you are positive, when you have that connection, you tend to love things and care for things,” Desjarlais said.

Fort Myers resident Paula Reiss attended the event for the first time this year because Jacques Cousteau has had a major impact on her life. She said she met him many years ago, which resulted in scuba diving and being actively involved with water quality issues.

“It was a very interesting experience,” she said of floating. “You don’t feel like anything is going on around you until you go vertical.”

Once Reiss went from the horizontal to vertical position she said it resembled the “feeling you get when you wake from a good sleep.”

Other participants described their experience as feeling safe, incredibly peaceful and it allowed them to tune into how their body was feeling. Another participant said “the rough waves out there weren’t ideal, but it’s kind of representative of life in a way.”

Alexandra Cousteau and Roy Desjarlais.

Alexandra Cousteau and Roy Desjarlais.

Guest speaker Alexandra Cousteau, Jacques Cousteau’s granddaughter, said it was really exciting for her to see everyone floating and enjoying the ocean.

“I hope that we will take something away from this day and that will be some renewed conviction that everything you do matters and every single choice you make has a consequence . . . that it doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” she said.

In addition to participants, the Float for Life event also attracted many volunteers that assisted before, during and after the festivities.

Edie Gleason, a Sanibel resident, said she wanted to volunteer because she loves the ocean and believes in the importance and connection between the health of the water, environment and everyone’s actions.

“I encourage people to think and support government issues,” she said.

The event’s beneficiary this year was the Sanibel Sea School, which resulted in a presentation from Cofounder and Executive Director Bruce Neill. He shared with the crowd that the Sanibel Sea School’s mission is to improve the ocean’s future one person at a time through marine conservation and education.

Sanibel Sea School Cofounder and Executive Director Bruce Neill

Sanibel Sea School Cofounder and Executive Director Bruce Neill

“Very quickly we are all going to realize that conservation is the true economic way to do things. It is the most cost effective way to do things in the future,” Neill said. “Humans don’t change our behavior based on data. We don’t read numbers and say ‘oh geez, I shouldn’t be doing that.’ We change our behavior based on emotions. At the very root of conservation is an emotional attachment to that thing.”

He classified the work between Lynch, Desjarlais, guest speaker Alexandra Cousteau and the Sanibel Sea Schools as a perfect union.

“It is conservation that is hooked to an emotional content of how we feel about the environment that sustains us,” Neill said.

Float for Life is similar to the Sanibel Sea School’s soul floats, which also connects individuals with the ocean.

“We like to cover our chests and we tend to not open our chest because it tends to leave us vulnerable,” Neill said. “So when we lie on the ocean and open our arms to allow us to float . . . when we open our arms and we open our chest something magical happens. We become reunited with the ocean and not only do we heal ourselves, we reinvigorate the love for the ocean.”

One of the main messages participants took away from the event was how to become better stewards of the water.

“To me what that means is take personal responsibility for our immediate environment,” Desjarlais said. “Embrace personal stewardship and create a new habit or embrace the old one and let that ripple out.”