Posted by: Celine Cousteau | January 30, 2014

Lessons from the Amazon- Blog for the World Economic Forum

As a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Oceans I have a tremendous opportunity to bring my perspective and make a push for better communication strategies with the issues our council is proposing to the WEF community. But beyond this- I am also continuously working on other issues and the Amazon, as most people who know me…know…is always at the top of my list. Below is the blog I was asked to write for the WEF’s blog page.

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Aerial Amazon
Photo by Carrie Vonderhaar / Ocean Futures Society

I was nine years old the first time I went on expedition, accompanying my grandfather Jacques-Yves Cousteau as he explored and filmed the Amazon. Each day his crew would take me on “child-approved adventures”. Since that trip, the Amazon is a place I hold very dear to my heart.

With the family I have, I grew up with oceans as an integral part of my life. But it was the Amazon that struck a deeper personal chord in me, meeting the people who live there, learning about their cultures and deep knowledge of the rainforest.

I have been back many times and I am preparing an expedition this year to make a documentary about the indigenous tribes of an area called the Vale do Javari, deep in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest. Past generations have thrived in this region, but external influences are threatening the tribes. Illegal logging and fishing strip away their resources and damage the ecosystem. They have a high rate of hepatitis, brought in by outsiders, and are desperate for better healthcare. One of the local healers said: “We have the plants for our diseases; we don’t have the plants for yours.”

But we can’t just talk about problems – we have to talk about solutions. There is always a hero out there doing amazing work day in and day out. I’m lucky enough to be able to travel and meet incredible people working tirelessly to solve environmental and social issues.

Through filmmaking, I bring back stories of humans living in harmony with the environment, who demonstrate our connection with the natural world. In our Western, supposedly developed society, we have created complex systems to go back to something much more basic. There are entire industries being created to bring things back into balance: renewable energy, sustainable fishing, construction and design. We used to do things that way; it just wasn’t called sustainability then. Today’s society is much more intricate. We can’t tear down what we have created, so we need to modify our behaviour; to consume less, whether it be water, energy, food, or material goods.

None of this is news. Everyone knows they must recycle more, or better yet, consume less. Perhaps the most important thing is to change the way we think about our place within a far bigger ecosystem. There are people dying of environmental pollution, tribes are being wiped out and ecosystems destroyed because of human enterprise, deforestation and sprawl. That’s what we need to be thinking about. Changing our behaviour is the easy part; changing the way we think is much more complex and it is critical.

Author: Céline Cousteau is Founder and Chief Executive Officer, CauseCentric Productions, France and is participating in the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos 2014.

The original blog post can be found here: Lessons from the Amazon

Posted by: Celine Cousteau | August 8, 2013

The Galapagos with Contiki Holidays and Shark Savers

I don’t think there is anyone who has not heard of the Galapagos and hasn’t dreamed a little. It is a mystical places made famous by Darwin and perhaps even popular in part by writers, travelers, and filmmakers. It does not disappoint. When you are there, you are IN those quintessential photos of marine iguanas sunning their hides on jagged lava rock, sea lions lying on moored fishing boats, and giant tortoises languishing about, slowly, slooooowly, ad-van-cing…

Me diving near schooling fish at Kicker Rock.

Me diving near schooling fish at Kicker Rock.

As Contiki Holiday’s sustainability partner, I last went to the Galapagos with a group of travelers, media, and trade representatives who joined us for a special reason beyond this first layer of awesomeness. They came with us to explore a marine conservation project Contiki has chosen to support called Sharks Count, created by the non-profit Shark Savers.

The great media group brought by Contiki to the Galapagos.

The great media group brought by Contiki to the Galapagos.

“Shark Savers works to improve protections for sharks.  Increasing protections for sharks requires information about local populations. SharksCount seeks to close an important data gap by enabling divers to act as citizen scientists for sharks. Over time, these sightings will provide essential information about local shark population trends with the potential of improving protections for sharks.”

It is wonderful to see people discover nature in a more in depth way, with greater understanding of the importance of what they are looking at. To be hands on with conservation also gives us all an opportunity to not only better understand the project, but it gives us an increased sense of participation and responsibility. There’s nothing like experiential education to really get a point across. And let’s not omit that it’s just really cool! My hope is each one of the travelers not only went home with a feeling of inspiration and a desire to do a bit more when they return home…but actually did something with that inspiration…perhaps inspiring others around them or contributing to Sharks Count or another cause!

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Contiki divers supporting Sharks Count.

STAY TUNED-  we will be posting our video on this great adventure before too long. Subscribe to my YouTube channel, like my FB page to get added videos and updates, or follow me on Twitter: @celinecousteau

All photos by Çapkin van Alphen for CauseCentric Productions (501c3)

Posted by: Celine Cousteau | May 1, 2013

Vale do Javari – Brazil – April 2013

The hot humid air felt familiar – I knew I was back.

The last time I was in Manaus, Brazil was in 2007 while filming “Return to the Amazon”, a 2-hour show created by my father for PBS, revisiting places my grandfather had been 25 years earlier. The last 5 years have gone by so fast! When did I blink?

This time I returned to the Amazon again on the request of one of my contacts, Beto, from the indigenous Marubo tribe of the Vale do Javari protected reserve. He was asking for my help. The major health issues the contacted tribes of the region are facing are of immense and dire concern. We first learned of this health situation when filming in 2007 and attended a conference (in the middle of the jungle) between the contacted tribes and the government organizations working with them on various levels. We heard that a large percentage of the people of the Vale do Javari have some form of Hepatitis: from A,B,C, to Delta. Add malaria to the mix and what you get is a war-like assault on the liver with potential death. Beto tells me that nothing has changed since we were there in 2007; help has not come and his people are dying.

Of course I answered the call and after working through necessary steps to get there and thanks to the National Geographic All Roads Seed Fund grant…I went to Atalaia-do-Norte near the Vale do Javari, talked to the representatives of the tribes and interviewed people from each group.  Each person stared into my eyes sharing stories so sad you wish you never heard them. But once you do, there is no going back. As tears rolled down their faces, they rolled down mine. With a small child of my own, I cannot fathom living the same fate -watching him die of a preventable and painful death. No, there is no going back from what I’ve been witness to. To be human is to have compassion and that creates a drive to do more than sit idly by while others suffer.

This is the beginning of a multi-phased, multi-media project. Through this initiative, I hope to carry out what was asked of me in 2007- to help tell these stories and inspire change so they may heal their people and gain strength. The initiative will be launched in Brazil first, for this is where the story is born. It may take time- but we will persist. This didn’t happen overnight, we can’t solve it overnight- but we must start!

There will be opportunities to help support this project through donations and once we have this structured, I will post information here…

Barbara, myself, and Jen coming back from filming interviews on the river.

Barbara, myself, and Jen coming back from filming interviews on the river

April 2013 team members:

Barbara Arisi- anthropologist and my field producer in the making- has worked in the Vale do Javari for extensive periods of time, publishing several papers on stories related to the Matis tribe.

Jennifer Galvin- camerawoman, independent filmmaker, and friend answered my call to help…and that means a lot. Thanks for sharing the photos included here.

Thank you both for believing in this!!!

Jen and I in our hammocks for the night

Jen and I in our hammocks for the night

Barbara and I talking with a Matis representative (in a moment of lightness amidst the heavy stories)

Posted by: Celine Cousteau | March 20, 2013

Filming and Conservation: Patagonia- Melimoyu Bay- Part 2

Melimoyu Bay – Chilean Patagonia

Part 2 (wishing for Part 3)

As our stay in Melimoyu neared it’s end, I was once more astonished that time had gone all too fast. This happens almost every expedition in the field and yet, the surprise is still the same. With a few days of sun at the start, a middle dampened by rain, our last 2 days were warm and sunny. But then the inevitable travel day arrived: our bags packed, our cameras awaiting a plane…and we watched as hummingbirds flitted about, birds swooped into the river, seals and dolphins played in the bay, the sun bounced off the water in that cliché sparkle. I kid you not! And so it is- and should be – nature doing it’s own thing, irrespective of our human agenda. Always a good reminder of who is in control. Lucky for us though, in the end, we have what we need – though we could always use more images, more footage, more time…

Gorgeous walk into the Melimoyu ecosystem

Gorgeous walk into the Melimoyu ecosystem

Thanks to the arrival of Warren Adams, the visionary behind Patagonia Sur‘s land conservation project, the non-profit MERI exists in Melimoyu and is beginning to thrive. With Warren’s arrival on site (after rain delayed his local flight) we had access to a helicopter for the day. This luxury never gets old- a smooth ride over an incredible landscape, close to the sun but not too close so as to burn our wings. The flight over the Melimoyu Bay, up past the 9kms stretch of protected undulating land, landing by the glacier, with a waterfall/river/mountain tour on the way back to home base by the bay was, without a doubt, a spectacular perspective on how grand this place is and how small we are in it’s shadow.

Glacier near our heli landing on Mt. Melimoyu

Glacier near our heli landing on Mt. Melimoyu

My mind began to formulate in more detail the visual stories I will produce about this area- the first project is going to be about MERI (Melimoyu Ecosystem Research Center) and will be produced by my non-profit, CauseCentric Productions. The project and the film are created from the very inspiration that is created by  this place and the people that believe in protecting it.

I left with the same feeling I had when our little plane first punched through the clouds and I caught sight of where I was- it was the desire to return. And so I plot…

Rafaela Landea and Felipe Zepeda of MERI- out in the rain with the frogs!

Rafaela Landea and Felipe Zepeda of MERI- out in the rain with the frogs!

Find the frog...

Find the frog…

Posted by: Celine Cousteau | March 10, 2013

Filming & Conservation: Patagonia- Melimoyu Bay- Part 1

Melimoyu Bay, Chilean Patagonia –  600 miles south of Puerto Montt (as the crow flies)

Part 1

It is pouring rain for the 4th day in a row. Through the windows I watch trees swaying, a gust of wind rattling the roof now and again. Rain jackets hang dripping, rubber boots ready by the door, and my short sleeve shirts didn’t make it out of the closet. This precious time is used for reading/researching, writing, editing footage, transcribing interviews…much needed time I am thankful to have. But let me not omit the first 2 days of beautiful sunshine that were spent diving, hiking, and of course filming! Aaah.

Beautiful sunny day...Melimoyu, Chile

Beautiful sunny day…Melimoyu, Chile

To arrive in Melimoyu by small plane is an opportunity to instantly grasp the immense beauty and isolation of this area. Before I even landed, I was plotting my return. Created as a nature reserve by Patagonia Sur, this is one of 3 properties people can visit. I am here to explore and document the story of the conservation efforts around the Melimoyu Bay. Blue whales skirt past in search of food, Magallanes penguins nest on Isla Locos surrounded by fur seals frolicking in the surf, the emblematic Darwin frog and Magellanic woodpecker are celebrities in the neighborhood, and the puma retains lengendary status by simply leaving a paw print without being seen.

We are amongst the first to dive here: Pablo Zavala, an accomplished Chilean underwater photographer has traveled over land and water for 23 hours with dive equipment to start the underwater exploration with his assistant Memo Bravo Muñoz. Rafaela Landea has been waiting years for this occasion, and then there’s us- Çapkin and I here to film the stories. Rafaela is the founder of MERI, Melimoyu Ecosystem Research Institute, a non-profit dedicated to fostering science through international collaboration to promote and conduct research about the unique flora and fauna of the area both above and below water. MERI is the main focus of my filming here and Rafaela is my protagonist. Despite the rain, we head outside to look for frogs with Felipe Zepeda, the resident MERI scientist, and we film an interview with Susannah Buchan, a British PhD student partnering with MERI to study blue whales acoustics and ecology at the Universidad de Concepciõn, Chile.

A lucky day for Darwin frogs

A lucky day for Darwin frogs

There are more than 39,683 acres of land over which we could potentially wander. The Melimoyu volcano watches over us with it’s snow capped poncho and the waters within and beyond the bay beckon to be explored – we certainly don’t lack for subjects or ideas to film. But until the rain stops, we must embrace our fate, record the sounds of nature, conduct our interviews under shelters and listen to the frogs sing in this incredible paradise made possible by the same rain and powerful winds that keep us from standing outside to film. And so I turn to my cup of tea and glowing computer screen to write, edit, and transcribe footage. Already more than one story is in the making and I am confident I will return to this unique place in the future for more filming. In the meantime, I continue to sip my honey touched Lapsang Souchong and glance outside, smiling.

Posted by: Celine Cousteau | January 30, 2013

2012 Revisited

What an incredible year 2012 turned out to be!

By far the most real and beautiful event has been Félix, born in late January 2012. From that point on, everything else I would do would be governed by his presence, giving a very real perspective on what is truly important. He has barely left my side and I am lucky to have been able to spend almost every day with him- working from home or taking him around the world with me. What an incredible little human he has already become in the 1st year of his life! Having my life and work partner by my side makes it possible for us to truly be a unified trio on this incredible life adventure as we travel the world together.

Five years ago I joined La Prairie as the ambassador to the Advanced Marine Biology collection. In 2012, not only did we launch 3 new products but we announced the La Prairie Award for Innovation in Marine Protection in collaboration with the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. Our inaugural event took place at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco.

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(LtoR) M. Calcagno Director of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, HRH Prince Albert II of Monaco, myself, Nadia Miller VP Brand Development La Prairie and Patrick Rasquinet President and Group CEO of La Prairie

As jury president, I had the task of guiding our decisions in giving $130k to three marine conservation projects. It was incredibly satisfying to give that money away! Our press tour took us to many countries including Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain, France, Holland, the UK and USA. For each location, we posted a short video on The La Prairie Facebook page. Çapkin (who filmed/edited these posts) and our son were with me for the whirlwind tour.

As a result of the incredible press tour, many online articles were published and printed press as well. Here are a few links: Telegraph UKLouLou online, and some screen grabs from Spain, France, and Taiwan.

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As Contiki Holiday’s Sustainability Partner, I accompanied a group of staff and consumers to Mexico. There we explored the marine conservation efforts of Contiki (through the TreadRight Foundation) supporting the Mesoamerican Reef Leadership Program. Watching the participants dive, some for the first time, and explore the work of the dedicated people protecting and restoring the Mesoamerican reef was wonderful. I produced a 13-minutes film about their journey for internal purposes only and a 4-mins film for the public about Contiki’s support of MAR Leaders. Here are a few links to browse as a result of our partnership: Traveling Greener, Ontario’s Tourisme Plus, and a blog from a staff member in Australia.

With my partners at Mammal Fish we have launched the first of a series of children’s interactive e-books for kids 3-5 years old – Little Journeys with Céline Cousteau. You can read it yourself or listen to the Captain and I tell the story with original accompanying music. It is available on the Nook by Barnes and Noble and through the app for the iPad. Our second story is underway.

Sneak preview of a page from the book:

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My family traveled to the Blue Ocean Film Festival in Monterey, CA and I was thrilled to show my short film, Scars of Freedom, for the first time. This is a story I had been wanting to tell for over a year, the footage of an entangled humpback whale we filmed in Chile burning a hole in my hard drive. The film is soon starting the film festival circuit after which we will put it online for all to see. The TreadRight Foundation made post production on this short film possible: read here. As a public speaker in universities and during international conferences, I evoke this story as well as many others I have lived on various expeditions. It is one more way of sharing the adventures and connecting people everywhere to our environment and other cultures.

It was a great honor to be invited to participate on the Council of Oceans for the World Economic Forum. Under the umbrella of the World Economic Forum, the Global Agenda Council on Oceans brings together an interdisciplinary group of experts and leaders in the fields of oceans conservation, policy and commerce from around the world. We gathered for our annual meeting on the Global Agenda in Dubai, focusing our attention on a few main ocean issues. At the occasion of the WEF in Davos, we released a joint statement recognizing the urgent need for a new global seafood traceability system to give consumers, businesses, and governments full access to information about marine fishing practices.

Receiving 501c3 status in early 2012, my non-profit CauseCentric Productions began the creative process of building the website in late 2012, to be launched in February 2013. Having 4 films completed to date, post production on two more short films was completed under our mission to be launched at the same time as the website. Two more related stories are in the editing room as I write. The CauseCentric website aims to inspire the viewer to action through a three part focus that makes it easy for everyone to take part. Each documentary story focuses on the solutions people all over the world are implementing to ameliorate environmental or socio-cultural challenges. The goal this year is to create the groundwork to produce more short films and thus our focus will be to garner support through fundraising and networking.

Here is a sneak peek at the website landing page:

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A big push for future independent film projects happened over the course of 2012, with planning and pre-production slowly but surely making way. The efforts are paying off as I will be spending time in South America and Mexico in the first half of 2013 filming a few short stories as a result. These films will see me travel to Chile, Ecuador (for two stories) and Mexico.

A bigger project, what I call my marathon- took real form in 2012. An important story based on the indigenous tribes I met while previously filming in the Brazilian Amazon will result in a full length independent documentary and educational campaign. This idea has been on my mind for 6 years now and is becoming real. It will take several years to complete this story, mostly filmed in Brazil, with expeditions in other parts of the Amazon. I am truly thankful for the National Geographic grant that is allowing me to take a first trip to Brazil for initial meetings and interviews…and meetings for potential funding.

Phew. There it is- 2012 at a glance.

I can hear the clock next to my computer…tic toc…pause. Breathe.

Posted by: Celine Cousteau | September 6, 2012

Diving Cuba’s Waters: Taking a Stroll Through the Gardens of the Queen

The first time I went to Cuba was well over 10 years ago. Wandering the landscape with a friend in a beat-up old car from Havana to Viñales, Cienfuegos to Trinidad, I spent my time talking to strangers, shooting photos of old buildings and old cars, allowing myself to be engulfed in this land frozen in time. It is easy to get lost in the dream-like feeling of nostalgia as one sees the mottled peeling paint of times past hanging from old wooden doors and euro-style pillars. My creative eye sees this as a perfect opportunity to shoot patches of colors with texture. The stark contrast with a far tougher reality is clear when a child eyed my apple as if it was the best thing on earth and when an old lady cried into my chest with thanks when I gave her a bar of soap and razor as payment for using her phone.

First trip to Cuba and the kind woman who lent me her phone.

Not long ago I returned to Cuba but only touched land to step onto a bus that would take me halfway down the island to the town of Juraco where I would then board a boat. I only set foot on the mainland again when it was time to leave the country. To say I have really seen Cuba twice would be false, but I did get to know it’s worlds both above and below water. My time was spent exploring the underwater seascape of Jardines de la Reina…and indeed, as its Spanish name indicates, it is a garden worthy of a queen. I can say with great conviction, that this is one of the most pristine reefs I have had the privileged of diving on and from I can deduce, the main reason for this is the absence of people’s impact.

Thanks to a willing subject- one of my first underwater macro shots.

Safely locked away in it’s housing, I take my camera down with me for the first time (challenging myself with a macro lens!) and quickly realize I could not have chosen a better place to start shooting underwater. From 5 to 35 meters below the waves, a plethora and variety of coral decorates mounds and cliffs, offering shelter and food to just as many fish. Schools of grunts move to and fro in an unhurried pattern and much like a flock of birds in the sky, they dance in a perfect synchronicity of effortless flight. Purple fans sway with the gentle current, sunlight shining through their delicate patterned weaving revealing more subtle nuances of color. Long slender sponges interrupt the landscape like towering condominiums, skittish little stripped gobies perched in their penthouse suites until a shadow has them darting into the safety of their yellow high-rise.

Taking a photo of a stunning pillar coral. Photo: Çapkin van Alphen

Now and again a wide-eyed squirrelfish peeks out from its hiding place, surveying the world with a look one might humanize as total bewilderment or fright. In the background a few groupers hang around, their eyes rotating here and there to glance at me, away, and back at me again. Curious, they return regularly, perhaps keeping tabs on the visitors of this garden much like the guardian of a park. A damselfish swims hesitantly to look out from the layers of coral while a passing barracuda stops to hover just above. Little crabs and neon shrimps find shelter in crevices and near a giant sponge a group of silky sharks circle around, claiming a stake on their territory. Their beautiful sleek skin shimmers as they glide effortlessly through the water. It feels as though I am swimming in an aquarium freshly stocked with all the right species.

Abundant life. Photo: Çapkin van Alphen

Above water once again, everyone exclaims wonder at the abundance of life and we laugh like giddy children at what we have captured in photos and video. What a contrast to most places we have seen under water where we humans have pillaged all life for our greedy need of overzealous consumption. Perhaps the Queen’s Gardens is a place worth referencing as what we need to recuperate, but even her majesty’s territory needs continued protection.

As posted on TakePart.com

Posted by: Celine Cousteau | March 28, 2012

Manatee Encounter – Crystal River, FL

Last fall I traveled to Florida to speak at the annual SEJ conference and decided to take a few days to visit the manatees of Crystal River. It wasn’t yet the high season for these animals to be in the area, but I had to give it a try. Besides, high season means more people in the water…

Because of my collaboration with La Prairie, I proposed we partner on a short video. The goal of this piece was simply to give the viewing audience an opportunity to be enchanted by sharing a moment with these wondrous animals. I must admit that my experience with manatees to date had been limited to watching them on TV. The only other time I came close to them was in the Amazon while I was filming a documentary for PBS, JM Cousteau’s Ocean Adventure series, but they are so skittish there that we only saw their hindquarters as they took off.

Once in Florida, Çapkin and I received all the instructions and precautions about the protocol, rules and regulations of our behavior around the manatees from the dive operator where we rented our boat. We set out with our cameras, but barely loaded the boat when we saw the telltale snout come up for air just off the dock, so we simply slid into the water right there. A mother and her calf were gently foraging on the riverbed. The visibility was terrible, but we managed to get wonderful images of eating behavior and some interaction between the two. They were obviously very used to a human presence and kept to their task of feeding as we floated above.

In the waters of Crystal Springs

We went to film elsewhere that day, but that had been such a special moment for us, seeing the interaction between the mother and her little one, that our day was already complete. The next day a storm was coming in which had us doubting we would get anything as the boats were confined to the dock. When you only have 2 days in the field to film, losing one of them is a big deal. We consulted with the dive operators about where we might slip into the water from shore and off we went to attempt a shore entrance.

This turned out to be our best move. Observing from land we saw movements under the water and up came two nostrils to breathe. We watched for a while to see if the manatee would stick around or leave before putting on our wetsuits and slipping into the turbid waters with our cameras. Looking under the surface, all we could see was a murky, muddy, particle-ridden panorama. I floated at the surface waiting, peeking just above the waterline to see if I could spot where the manatee was coming up for air.

As I was looking to my left, a large shape approached me from the right and before I could turn, a juvenile manatee had glided underneath me and gracefully pivoted to float just below me. I did all I could to stay steady and flat at the surface. As I was 6 months pregnant at the time, my belly hung below me and I had difficulty gauging how close to her it might be. I tried to gently move away, using only my hands to move and turn me. But she wanted to be right there and followed my movements…and then did a complete belly role right next to me. I was so surprised and in complete awe I temporarily forgot I was holding a small GoPro camera in my hand. The words of the dive operator came back to me- if they approach you and display obvious signs of anticipating an interaction, only then can you touch the manatee.

She came back around a second time and when she did another belly roll right next to me, I slowly reached out to scratch her gently as she turned. I think I stopped breathing…but luckily I made sure to point the camera right at her. The moment was nothing less than magical. As she calmly slipped off and swam away, I just floated there- filled with gratitude that she accorded me a moment.

It is incredible to think that these animals, though they have no natural predators, are endangered because of human behavior. One of the biggest threats we impose on them comes from boat propellers. How can we be so thoughtless, zipping through these shallow rivers with propellers that can lethally damage these creatures…all the more so, how can we do this while at the same time there are laws in place to protect them? Why do we not enforce stricter laws? Why do we not enforce the use of safer props? This area is a perfect example of humans and animals living in very close proximity – the very area the manatees come to seek warm waters (Crystal Springs) is a heavily populated area with homes built all around the edges of these same waters. It seems simple that we would respect their habitat and enjoy the fact that there are magical creatures in our backyard.

WATCH THE VIDEO: 

For more information on manatees and Crystal Springs:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manatee

http://www.floridastateparks.org/manateesprings/

Posted by: Celine Cousteau | March 13, 2012

Papua New Guinea – Healing Seekers

A few years ago I started producing short documentaries about the work of non-profit organizations and individuals working on the ground implementing solutions related to environmental and cultural challenges. My first self-produced piece was about Amazon Promise, an NGO bringing medical attention to remote indigenous and mestizo communities in the Peruvian Amazon. I then traveled to Uganda to film the work of the Uganda Rural Community Support Foundation before filming a piece about Green Chimneys, in New York. All of these I had done solo; produced, filmed, and was the on-camera ‘host’; a challenging task to say the least. These 3 films were the basis for creating my non-profit organization, CauseCentric Productions.

For this latest short film my husband and work partner Çapkin, a cameraman and photographer, joined me in the field, giving me the liberty to focus on the storyline and production- while taking on the role of second camera/photo. It made an incredible difference to work on this as a team. We flew to Papua New Guinea where we joined Amy Greeson, founder and executive director of the non-profit, Healing Seekers. The mission of the organization is to “explore the most remote areas of the world in search of healing therapies, medical treatments and cures”. Through filming and documentation they create educational materials about the cultures they visit, while encouraging the protection of the environment these people live in.

Amy invited us on her expedition to Papua New Guinea where we would spend 2 weeks filming their work. From Port Moresby to the Sepik River and out to Tami Island, we documented her search for medicinal plants through the healers we met with. This was an incredible journey deep into a place, but more importantly deep into a culture where many people still live in very close harmony with nature- walking out to the forest pharmacy and cutting a root to heal someone who is ill. This is how we all used to live – nature is, in fact, our medicine cabinet – she is the source and inspiration for all of our remedies.

Healing Seekers' founder Amy Greeson, sound engineer Josh Jones, and cameraman Esteban Barrera

This expedition was physically challenging because of the tough environmental conditions (think very hot and sweaty with cameras in hand and on our backs). But this was not really an issue in the end- I had lived such conditions for much longer periods of time in the Amazon. What was more of a challenge was that I was in a place I had not learned much about before going. Unlike previous documentaries I had been working on where I had done more extensive research about the people and place I was to encounter, my task here was to follow a group of people who were documenting another group- and so I was one step removed- something unusual for me. Once on site, I was to learn a whole lot more than I had anticipated. And I am thankful for it.

Cameraman Çapkin van Alphen shooting for CauseCentric Productions

Without going into too many details (lest this turn into a novel)- these are some of the interesting situations we found ourselves in…that are not into the film produced. We arrived at the Wewak regional airport to find out the body of a college student who had been killed by another student had traveled with us. There are still unwritten tribal laws in action here and it just so happens that our guide was from the same region as the student who killed this young man. The law of the land…an eye for an eye…takes on its most direct meaning here where revenge is sought no matter who pays the price no matter who committed the crime. Everything turned out well- but this was one situation I had not anticipated and could not imagine beforehand. On another day- we headed out to remote Tami island…only to find out we did not have enough gas to get there and our guide stated he had not received the money from his boss to buy gas. I have to ask- then why did we leave ‘port’ in the first place? Night was falling and we ended up landing on some tiny little sand bar with a 20-person village on it. We spent the night in a gracious family’s home who had offered our team their space. The next day we were able to get to Tami (it just so happens this little sand bar stocks black market gas…). Anyhow- the trip was full of such stories not related to our reason for being there.

Céline Cousteau and the Aseki mummies in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

We got our story and then some. Amy and the Healing Seekers team are an amazing group of dedicated people worth following. Their work is of great importance. Rather than describe in writing what we learned from them in Papua New Guinea, watch the video.

When you meet like-minded people, you hang on to their friendship and so Amy and I have stayed in touch. This is one of the bonuses of sharing incredible experiences away from the distractions of our western world- the iPhones, internet, to do list, etc-. When you simply get out there into the world and learn by communicating with people, you come back enriched.

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Posted by: Celine Cousteau | February 13, 2012

Remembering Mike deGruy and Andrew Wight

Last Sunday Feb 5, I got a text message telling me that Mike deGruy was killed in a helicopter accident in Australia. It’s been a while since I’ve cried this fast and hard. Surely this was a mistake. I read it again- one sentence. I thought again- no, it must be another Mike. But my tears had already manifested what my brain and heart did not want to accept.

I was sitting on the bed with my 2 week old son in my arms when I read the news. The power of this contrast could not be more vivid- an inevitable circle of life and death. But this did not feel right. The mention of the pilot, whose name was not mentioned in the article that night, also being killed in this accident had me thinking of Andrew Wight right away. He was Mike’s close friend, flew a helicopter, lived in Australia, and was a scriptwriter/producer so also in the filmmaking world. But I did not want to accept that it was a possibility both of them had been there. I wrote Andrew an email that night, perhaps to confirm it was not him.

But the next morning I rushed to the computer and read the reality- both Mike deGruy and Andrew Wight were gone. Once more my face was strewn with tears. My first thoughts were of their families, their wives and children especially. Having just brought my own child into this world, the understanding of that incredibly deep bond and love is very much intense and present.

In 2008 I worked with Mike on a documentary for Discovery Channel, “Mysteries of the Shark Coast” shot in Australia. We co-hosted this show with Sanjayan, scientist with The Nature Conservancy. It was actually Mike who encouraged me to join this production and introduced me to the producers when he and I first met in person at the Jackson Hole Film Festival. The filmmaking world, especially when it comes to underwater productions, is a small family so though I had not met him before this time, we all knew each other.

While we were in Australia filming, we had a bit of down time and Mike invited me to join him when he went to visit his friend Andrew. The best way to get to his family ranch was to have Andrew pick us up in his helicopter. So there we were- hanging out 4 days with some of the nicest people I’ve met. These two guys were fast and furious friends- sharing a complicity one sees with true kindred spirits. Andrew’s gentle and generous nature made for a relaxed weekend- off we went on horseback, his sister Fiona and I took off on the quad while the two “boys” played with remote helicopters, I took picture of wallabies and we spent endless hours chatting. What incredibly fun memories.

Boys and their grown up toys.

Good friends and their steady steeds.

Every now and then we would all exchange emails and I would see Mike at an event or other. When I found out Andrew was getting married I was thrilled he had found that person who saw all this good in him and when he shared the news of his son Ted’s birth, you could feel the papa pride radiating. He deserved all this happiness. Mike was the same when he spoke about his children Frances and Max. While in Australia he made sure to dedicate some time finding them something to let them know he thought of them when he was away from home. We found a guitar for Max and he gushed with pride when he mentioned how they would mess around with instruments together.

Mike’s love for his work, his passion for the sea, and his contagious enthusiasm made him a great colleague in the field. Always encouraging, ready for anything, alert and professional. But what remains and always will be there, is his smile and laugh. This was Mike’s window to his being- the projection of his personality. Andrew’s kind heart and his gentled disposition stand out in my mind, without forgetting his firm support for my own film ideas. He was a true, real spirit.

During TED Mission Blue in the Galapagos, 2010.

I like to think of the two of them with their remote helicopters playing in the big field behind Andrew’s house or maybe they’re on a grand cave diving exploration together, dreaming up creative scenarios for the next production. Either way, their contagious positive energy will live on- in their children, their friends, in their work, and through their undying spirit that will not vanish just because they are gone. Each of us owes it to them to keep that spirit alive. They would have liked that.

When my son Félix was born I sent both Mike and Andrew an email announcement and a few days later, on January 25, I received their replies. Mike’s words would never ring more true…”take a day, take a month…take a year, you will never see life the same.” Andrew’s email said: “Enjoy every moment, the start of a new life is such an amazing thing and they grow so quickly.” I’m holding on to these words…and I’m taking them to heart!

You are both already greatly missed.

Mike's spirit will continue to shine bright.

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