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Cousteau’s underwater classroom: Imparting lessons from under the sea

Jean-Michel Cousteau to speak on Maui this weekend in Kapalua

Jean-Michel Cousteau swims with a Hawksbill turtle in Papua New Guinea. Cousteau, 81, still dives twice a day. Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society / CARRIE VONDERHAAR photo

Jean-Michel Cousteau grew up underwater.

At age 7, the son of famous French ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, credited with inventing scuba and other diving devices, was equipped with his father’s new invention and pushed overboard.

It was, then, that the oldest of four Cousteau children learned to dive . . . and he hasn’t stopped since.

Now 81, Jean-Michel Cousteau said he still dives about two times a day, down from three to four times a day in his “younger years.”

“I’m going to live until I’m 107 because I want to celebrate 100 years of scuba diving,” the explorer, environmentalist, educator and film producer told The Maui News in a phone interview Tuesday.

Jean-Michel Cousteau believes that young people “are like sponges. They learn fast and once they go home, they can educate their parents much better than we adults do.” CARRIE VONDERHAAR photo

Cousteau will be on land, though, to discuss his dives and conservation work during the Whale Tales event this weekend at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.

The 14th annual educational event, presented by Maui-based nonprofit Whale Trust and the resort, runs Friday to Monday and will feature more than a dozen experts in marine science, photography and conservation. Various talks, a marine science center and an expo are open to the public Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Cousteau, who will be the Whale Tales keynote speaker, said he will show images from a permitted dive off southwest Maui a few years ago. During that excursion with two scientists, he used equipment that keeps divers from producing bubbles and sound so whales don’t “get scared.”

“Some even came to look at me up close, saying, ‘What is this weirdo there?’ ” he said, laughing. “And I could have kissed them, but I respectfully did not.”

Cousteau also will discuss the Ocean Futures Society, a nonprofit marine conservation and education organization that he founded in 1999 to continue his father’s work. As the nonprofit’s president and spokesman, he teaches about the important bond between humans and the sea.

“Every plant, every animal in the ocean or on land is connected to the ocean — and that includes the almost 9 billion people on the planet,” Cousteau said. “We all depend on the quality of the ocean for the quality of our lives.”

The oceanographer has created more than 80 films and received Emmy and Peabody awards.

In 2006, Cousteau screened his PBS-KQED documentary, “Voyage to Kure,” for President George W. Bush at the White House. Inspired, Bush then declared the 1,200-mile chain a Marine National Monument. The Papahanaumokua-kea Marine National Monument was the largest marine protected area in the world at the time.

Cousteau said he’s traveled to Hawaii countless times. When asked for his favorite island, he laughed.

“Pass,” he said.

Just on Maui about 10 days ago, Cousteau said he enjoyed seeing the Valley Isle’s annual winter visitors.

“There were so many whales,” he said. “I love Maui.”

Cousteau said that he believes humans are heading in the right direction to protect marine life, such as whales, by reducing emissions and helping the environment. Education is the key to turning the tide, and he encouraged residents and visitors to attend this weekend’s talks.

“You can go to The Ritz Carlton hotel, and you will see our team,” he said. “Especially it’s good for young people, who are like sponges. They learn fast and once they go home, they can educate their parents much better than we adults do,” he said.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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COUSTEAU TALK

• Who. Jean-Michel Cousteau of Ocean Futures Society.

• What. Presentation at 14th annual Whale Tales.

• When. 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

• Where. The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.

• Cost. $20 per person.

• RSVP. Whaletales.org