April 20, 2009
Explorer's granddaughter tours River Bend
By LAURA GRIFFITH
The River Bend is the most recent stop for an expedition team headed by the granddaughter of legendary explorer and filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau in their quest to spread awareness about the interconnectivity of water issues across the planet.
Alexandra Cousteau and her crew visited area farms, including Three Rivers organic farm in Jersey County, on Monday to discuss agriculture and nutrient pollution as it relates to the Mississippi River and subsequent "dead zones" where it pours into the Gulf of Mexico.
According to www.alexandracousteau.com, "agricultural chemicals, including nitrogen-based fertilizers, flowing into the Mississippi have caused the largest 'dead zone' in the history of the Gulf of Mexico.
"No federal laws prohibit releasing pollution into the river, and farmers who voluntarily reduce toxic runoff are thwarted by federal policies encouraging use of nitrogen-based fertilizers. Short-term return on cash crops is destroying the very land and water that produces these crops, and threatening farmers' economic survival. Long-term solutions require multi-stakeholder solutions that balance farmers' needs with the health of the environment," the site states.
Problems such as this one regarding plummeting water quality and its relation to local communities are not unique to the United States, but have been documented around the world - along with problems of water disappearing in some areas and being too abundant in others.
"We live on a water planet. We need to understand our relationship to water," Cousteau said. "We can't address water issues as if they aren't connected. Ultimately, we have one ocean, one river, one lake, (etc.)"
The 100-day "Expedition: Blue Planet" began in February. Since then, Cousteau has visited the Ganges River in India, the Jordan River, Australia and Botswana, among other sites across five continents to document the issues and viewpoints of locals and to call the citizens of the world to take action.
Throughout her journey so far, people have echoed the same sentiment in numerous languages: "Water is life."
On Monday, the crew was in the process of exploring the River Bend on its way down to the Gulf of Mexico, and hoped to board a boat on the Mississippi sometime this week. Strong winds caused the water to be exceptionally choppy Monday, and interviews were running behind.
While Cousteau is in the area, Lewis and Clark Community College and the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center are showing her around. The institutions will have her at a roundtable discussion today to ask questions of local conservation experts - a preview of her return in August as a keynote speaker for an NGRREC event.
Alexandra Cousteau is following in her grandfather's footprints in more ways than one; his expedition to the Mississippi River took place in 1983.
"It's Mark Twain's River. It has a huge emotional tie for a lot of people," she said. "For me, it's obviously the heartland of America. To interact with farmers and communities here has been a really wonderful experience."
Cousteau, 32, grew up traveling the globe and followed in her family's ecological tradition in 2008 with the establishment of Blue Legacy, an organization formed to tell the story of the Earth as a water planet.
"It's a family affair," she said.
Cousteau said people get excited when they hear about her family line - her father, Philippe, and her grandfather, Jacques.
"He was a brilliant filmmaker," Alexandra Cousteau said about her grandfather. "His conservation message was largely lost, because people didn't get it yet. This is an opportunity for my generation who are getting involved. We all make a difference, positive or negative. There is no neutral impact."
Photos, video footage and blog entries from all of the crew's stops, including the Ganges River in India, the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Jordan River, are all available at Cousteau's Web site, http://www.alexandracousteau.org.
Local footage should be online in about two weeks, she said.