toggle menu
Sunlight illuminating coral, Great Barrier Reef © Troy Mayne

Sunlight illuminating coral, Great Barrier Reef © Troy Mayne

Q and A with Philippe Cousteau, Jr

23 Jun 2015

  • marine pollution
  • climate change
  • great barrier reef
  • marine species

As part of the Campaign to protect the Great Barrier Reef, WWF Australia sat down for an interview with Philippe Cousteau, Jr.

Co-Founder and President of EarthEcho International Philippe Cousteau, Jr. is an Emmy-nominated television host, producer, author, speaker, philanthropist and social entrepreneur.  Philippe is the son of Philippe Cousteau Sr. and grandson of Jacques Cousteau. His life-mission is to empower people to recognise their ability to change the world. 


What are the main threats to the Great Barrier Reef?

There are a number of growing threats to the Great Barrier Reef, with the most serious being climate change, catchment pollution, coastal development, and fishing. 

Another challenge we face with the Great Barrier Reef is the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome.  While the Reef is a source of national pride, economic wellbeing, and environmental stability to the people of Australia, it’s going to take a global effort to save it. The first time I ever had the opportunity to dive on the Great Barrier Reef it was while filming Oceans Deadliest with Steve Irwin.  I remember just how awestruck I was by its beauty.  Since then, I have spent many hours myself diving along the Great Barrier Reef and am devastated by the thought that my children will not be able to experience the wonders that I and countless millions have enjoyed. In many ways it is the ecosystem equivalent of charismatic fauna like elephants, polar bears and tigers.  Like these animals, the Great Barrier Reef has a mystery and a beauty that can move people.  Programs like WWF’s Draw the Line Campaign can help the Reef’s story come alive for people throughout Australia and around the world.   

How immediate is the risk?

Time is something we don’t have.  Simply put, either we make changes now or the Reef continues to decline.

Scientists say that the Reef is in serious danger and it’s estimated that it will be decimated by the end of this century, as my friend Ove Hoegh-Guldberg has said numerous times based on current carbon emission trends. 

We know the Reef is at risk. Shockingly 50% of it has gone in the last 30 years and the Australian Government’s own Outlook 2014 report says the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is poor and expected to deteriorate further.  That statistic should be a clarion call for Australia and the world.  Fossil fuels and mining is a short term gambit, if we develop those resources at the expense of the environmental gold mine that is the Great Barrier Reef, we will all lose in the long run.  The Great Barrier Reef is a huge source of economic development, and it is rapidly declining on our watch – that cannot be allowed to continue.

What needs to happen?

Saving the Great Barrier Reef represents an opportunity for governments and industry both here in Australia and around the world to be heroes.

First and foremost, governments worldwide must take urgent action to address climate change - to stop the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef’s unique coral ecosystem.

The good news is that coral reefs and the life that thrives on and within them have a much better chance of being resilient in the face of climate change and ocean acidification if they are healthy to begin with.  That puts even greater emphasis on the need to reduce local impacts of coastal development, such as increased shipping, port expansion, dredging, and polluted run-off from agriculture. 

When UNESCO meets to make its landmark decision on the Reef in early July, it means the world is watching.  We have a global responsibility to be the generation that saves the Reef. I think everyone agrees that bringing back the Reef’s corals, fish, turtles, dugongs and dolphins can have a positive impacts far beyond the Reef itself.  

As my grandfather Jacques-Yves Cousteau once wrote “We can find happiness in protecting the world around us not only because we cherish it for its awesome beauty, power, and mystery, but because we cherish our fellow humans, those who live today and those who will live tomorrow, living beings who like ourselves, will increasingly depend on the environment for happiness and even for life itself.”