In Person

30 Seconds With Alexandra Cousteau

The celebrated ocean crusader talks to Portland Monthly about her family’s legacy, water conservation, and pretending to be a mermaid.

By Lauren Fox July 26, 2010

Alexandra Cousteau may have crisscrossed the globe with her legendary grandfather Jacques Cousteau, and her equally famous father, Philippe Cousteau, but before last week, she had never visited the Rose City. It didn’t take long for her to make an impression. With an entourage of international photographers and filmmakers documenting (and no doubt tweeting) her every move, not to mention a slew of drummers from Portland’s Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers trumpeting her arrival, Cousteau looked like a regular rock star when she stepped out her 45-foot-long bio-diesel tour bus (which, we’re told, once ferried Paul McCartney around the country) last Wednesday night on her way inside the Bagdad Theater as part of her 14,500-mile Expedition Blue Planet tour through North America. We manged to nab a few minutes with the Ocean’s First Lady just before she took to the stage to kickstart a local dialogue about water conservation amongst Portlanders.

Obviously, you’re no stranger to water. Your family still holds the record for the number of cover stories in National Geographic for their contributions to help preserve this precious resource. Is this tour your own pursuit or are you trying to carry out a family legacy?
This tour is really both. My exposure to water started with my family. My grandfather taught me to dive when I was seven-years-old and my parents took me on my first expedition when I was 4 months old to Easter Island. But in just 27 years, some of those places where I dove in my youth have been lost. For me, that is a tragedy that I can’t sit by and watch.

What have you learned about Oregon in the brief time that you have spent here? Has anything surprised you?
I have to say that I had never visited Portland before and it is as beautiful of a city as everyone says it is. We’ve spent all day with Willamette Riverkeeper talking with people about their water, and people have a lot of concerns. However, there is also a myth about water abundance here. People look around and they see all of these rivers and streams, and they are having a hard time figuring out why the city has started to ask people to ration their water use.

What are you hoping to accomplish during your 138-day tour around North America?
What we are hoping to get out of this continental tour is three-fold. First, we want to shed light on North America’s serious challenges with water and address how problems on iconic American water ways like the Mississippi River, great lakes or Colorado River affect all of us. Second, with community action days, we want to inspire people to take action within their own water sheds. Finally, we want to produce and distribute photos, blog posts, and social media updates and have a real conversation about water. We want to show people that even though we might be spending time on Colorado’s rivers, those stories ring true on Oregon’s waterways, too.

I have to ask. Do you have a favorite memory of your grandfather?
When I was little, we used to play this game when we would dive. I would pretend to be a mermaid princess and my grandfather was the steward king. We would swim around and visit our subjects and he would teach me about where they lived and what they ate. But, when I asked too many questions he would say, ‘Alexandra I can’t answer any more of your questions. You’ll just have to go and see for yourself.’ That is really what Blue Legacy and this trip was about. I needed to go and see the world’s water problems for myself.

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