Pearls of wisdom from Céline Cousteau

TreadRight Foundation ambassador Céline Cousteau, grand-daughter of legendary sea explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau, was in Toronto recently to discuss her work. (Photo courtesy of Çapkin van Alphen)

Story by Rod Charles Deputy Editor

TORONTO, ONTARIO — I’m interviewing “Oceanaut” Céline Cousteau and I have to admit I’m finding it hard to imagine this elegant adventurer with oxygen tanks on her back courageously warding off ferocious sharks, or hanging on for her life on a flimsy rope bridge over a rocky canyon teeming with piranha deep in a South American jungle.

If you recognized that last name, then it probably isn’t that hard to imagine her doing any of these things (though it may be a bit of an exaggeration to suggest she’s ever had to ward off sharks or bloodthirsty piranha, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it was true).

Chances are you recognize the name. Céline Cousteau is the daughter of ocean explorer and filmmaker Jean-Michel Cousteau  and grand-daughter of the legendary Jacques Yves Cousteau, a French undersea explorer, researcher, photographer and documentary host who invented diving and scuba devices, including the Aqua-Lung. By the 1980s, Cousteau was producing television specials and had become a leading environmental voice.

Celine -- Capkin van Alphen-CauseCentric Productions-9168-72 (3)

Céline Cousteau in her element, deep under the world’s oceans. (Photo courtesy of Çapkin van Alphen).

Growing up, there was no shortage of children’s books, cartoons and stories about the legendary undersea explorer and it’s quite an honour to be able to speak with Céline, a woman who has carried on the family tradition of bringing awareness to the state of the world’s oceans.

“My grandfather was known by a lot of people, so I love it when people say ‘I grew up with your grandfather,’ because I say, ‘Me, too!’” says Céline Cousteau during her trip to Toronto. She says she respects Canada because there is much education and intelligence to access here, adding that Canada is a country that values its education system. It is her hope that environmental issues will be addressed more in Canadian schools.

“My whole family was involved in my grandfather’s work,” says Cousteau. “It influenced me because I saw just how interconnected we really are to so many places around the world through the stories that we share.”

Cousteau has worked tirelessly to educate people about the environment. (Photo Courtesy Çapkin van Alphen).

Céline Cousteau works to educate people about the environment. (Photo courtesy of Çapkin van Alphen)

Céline Cousteau Is the Perfect Ambassador

Cousteau isn’t kidding — this is a family that literally has seaweed growing in their veins and it shows. Founder and executive director of the non-profit organization CauseCentric Productions, Cousteau has hosted ocean documentaries for PBS and The Discovery Channel, and has been interviewed for countless news organizations. Her frequent global travels have seen her embarking on expeditions to the Peruvian Amazon, following the grey whale migration from Baja, California to Alaska and researching shark species on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

So it seems only reasonable that Cousteau would be viewed as the perfect person to be an ambassador for the TreadRight Foundation. According to the organization’s website, TreadRight supports environmental projects and works to conserve ecosystems and benefit communities. To date the foundation has supported more than 35 sustainable tourism projects worldwide.

“I’m working with the TreadRight Foundation as their ambassador and it’s a role that we’ve just created because I’ve been working with Contiki Holidays as their sustainability partner for the past three years,” says Cousteau. “So the path to that started with me working with the steering committee for the TreadRight Foundation to look at what the initiatives of the foundation are going to be focused on. I’m already a voice in my industry, environmental advocacy and spokesperson for a lot of different causes, this was a fantastic match for both of us.”


From left: Marie Anne MacRae, VP of global strategic partnerships, The Travel Corporation; Michelle Palma, national accounts manager, Uniworld; Jeff Element, president, The Travel Corporation; Céline Cousteau, TreadRight Foundation ambassador; Brad Ford, president, Contiki Canada; Shannon Guihan, program director, TreadRight Foundation; Carla Brake, VP of sales, Insight Vacations Canada; Nicole McCallum, national marketing manager, Trafalgar Canada. (Rod Charles/

Created as a joint initiative between The Travel Corporation’s family of brands, the TreadRight Foundation is a not-for-profit  organization that works to ensure the environment and communities we visit remain vibrant and preserved for generations to come. TreadRight’s guiding principle is to encourage sustainable tourism development through conservation, leadership and support for communities.

Earth Day Lesson One: Start at Home

This is great stuff, but it forces one to ask the obvious question — what can Canadians do, as citizens and as travellers, to protect the environment and really make a difference? Cousteau says that while it’s important for people to think on a global basis, the best way to make a difference is to start at home.

“If you look in your back yard, in the case of Toronto, you have this immense lake, that fresh water is essential to your health. So anything that goes in it eventually leeches back into the soil and comes back to you,” says Cousteau. “Water is a cycle. Whatever rains down into our water system flows into our oceans, if you eat fish it doesn’t go away, those chemicals don’t go away. So it’s essential for us to understand that it’s a cyclical system and we’re a complete part of it and if your environment isn’t healthy, you’re not healthy.”

Earth Day Lesson Two: Travelling Is a Privilege

As far as the travel industry is concerned, Cousteau makes it clear that it’s a privilege to travel. Period. Full stop.

“It doesn’t matter how far you go, how exotic it gets, it’s a privilege to be able to travel,” says Cousteau. “And that privilege should come with a certain responsibility for understanding where you travel, understanding how you can impact less the places you travel to, benefit the local communities, the local mom-and-pop stores, local organic stands and try and shop in those places to bring value to the people in those regions, whether it’s across Canada or across the world. And to bring those stories back and inspire people back home, wherever home is.”

The Travel Corporation president Jeff Element says Céline Cousteau as TreadRight ambassador is the perfect fit and someone who will be able to share and promote stories about conservation, sustainability and environmental awareness.

“Today is Earth Day, and for this reason we want to encourage people to not only think about sustainability during this time and on a global level, but also how our actions can make an every-day impact,” says Element. “At the Travel Corporation, we’ve made a conscious effort to be a little more environmentally friendly by doing ‘small’ things like removing garbage bins at our desks and starting a bike-sharing program.”



Contact: Click here. In order to gain support from the TreadRight Foundation, approved projects must meet one of these key criteria:

  • Conservation and protection of the environment, wildlife and cultural heritage sites
  • Relief of poverty and the improvement of the conditions of life in socially and economically disadvantaged communities through community involvement in sustainable tourism initiatives
  • Promotion of sustainable tourism as a means to achieve economic growth and regeneration.






Rod has previously worked for and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.

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