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.
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.