Students meet environmentalist Cousteau
Twenty students from North Point High School’s Ocean Guardians program had an opportunity last week to meet one of the world’s premier “ocean guardians” — environmentalist and oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau.
North Point High School is the first school in Maryland to be designated an Ocean Guardian School — a program by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Sanctuaries.
“Mr. Cousteau was very impressed that we were the first Ocean Guardian school in Maryland that that the students wanted to come and speak with him about these issues,” said North Point environmental sciences teacher Lolita Kiorpes. “It was wonderful meeting with him and it was really an honor.”
To become an Ocean Guardian School, a school must make a commitment to the protection and conservation of its local watersheds, the ocean and special ocean areas, such as national marine sanctuaries. The school must propose and implement hands-on school- and community-based conservation projects, according to the Ocean Guardian School website.
“At Mallows Bay, we’ve been learning how to help marine life and how to make the environment a better place,” said Arieanna Meyer, a North Point Ocean Guardian student who met with Cousteau.
North Point’s Ocean Guardians student group is sponsored by Kiorpes, who is a recipient of a 2016 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators.
Kiorpes, North Point teacher Cecilia Arce-Munoz and 20 students were invited to Washington, D.C., last Wednesday morning to meet with Cousteau, the son of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and a world-renowned environmentalist, film producer, educator and diver in his own right.
“For me it was a very humbling experience to meet someone’s who’s dedicated his life to the work we’re just starting to learn more about,” said Jeremiah Skeete, one of the North Point students who met with Cousteau last week.
Cousteau is the founder and spokesman of the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Ocean Futures Society, a nonprofit marine conservation and education organization, and is the recipient of the Knight of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian order of distinction, according to his biography on the Ocean Futures Society website.
The meeting with Cousteau was arranged by the Accokeek-based environmental nonprofit Alice Ferguson Foundation, through its Bridging the Watershed initiative, a program to inspire personal connections with the natural world through hands-on outdoor studies in national parks and public lands.
“We are the only species which can decide for ourselves not to disappear,” Cousteau said afterward in a phone interview. “It’s the young people, they’re the ones that really can make a difference.”
Cousteau spoke with students regarding his own experiences as an environmentalist and a diver and the ways in which he has seen trash and pollution cause degradation to the world’s oceans.
“I started diving 71 years ago, and I’ve never stopped. I’ve seen a lot of changes taking place. There’s a lot more trash in the oceans now than there used to be. In the same places, there are less creatures, and more garbage. It was shocking,” Cousteau said.
Cousteau also worked with students on a project to see how much trash could be picked up around the Washington Monument in 20 minutes, Skeet said.
Students also explored the ways in which trash breaks down, or doesn’t break down, through the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s interactive Trash Timeline, Kiorpes said.
“Listening to Jean-Michel Cousteau discuss his experiences from around the world was-eye opening,” Abigail Semarge, another North Point student, said. “He gave us new insights about nature and the day was highly enjoyable.”
Semarge said Cousteau explained how plastics in particular can be harmful to wildlife.
“He showed us some garbage from the ocean and how wildlife, fish and birds, eat this and then die instantly from all the chemicals,” Semarge said.
Kiorpes said Cousteau explained that the plastics remain in the animals that are then eaten by other animals.
Another student, Daniel Gonzales, said the experience gave him new insights into the work of environmentalists.
“The meeting made me realize that world-famous environmentalists are just ordinary people trying to make a difference in our world; they’re not superheroes or people with special powers,” Gonzales said.
Cousteau said he finds it inspiring to meet with students who care so much about the world’s oceans and waterways.
“I was impressed; they were very engaged, dedicated and they sincerely want to make a difference,” Cousteau said of the North Point students. “It was a very great pleasure to meet these young people who are the decision makers of tomorrow.”
Environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau speaks with North Point High School students from the Ocean Guardians program in Washington, D.C.