Fabien Cousteau sat on a stool along the bank of the Conasauga River in Polk County, Tennessee, Thursday morning. A contracted film crew surrounded him, with a full outdoor studio and Tennessee Aquarium personnel all around. Just out of the camera's view, biologists and aquarium interns snorkeled in one of the most biodiverse freshwater rivers in the U.S.
Cousteau, the eldest grandchild of famed oceanic explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, is visiting Chattanooga this week to support the Tennessee Aquarium's freshwater research and restoration programs. The Conasauga River — home to 76 native fish, salamanders, mussels and snails — provided the perfect backdrop and learning opportunity for the explorer. The arrangement was mutually beneficial for Cousteau — who plans to use the trip to further tell the importance of rivers and streams — and aquarium officials, who are eager to use a famous conservationist to help spread news about their efforts.
"The Tennessee Aquarium does an amazing job of telling the story of water and introducing millions of people to the wondrous life below the surface," Cousteau said, with the hills of East Tennessee featured prominently in the background. "By showing people how what they do impacts waterways and empowering them to be positive contributes to the health of these aquatic ecosystems, the aquarium is helping to protect these natural treasures."
Cousteau does what he calls "exploration with a message." He travels to places no one else has been to find signs of human impact and spreads a message centered on protecting water quality. In 2014, he took part in the longest, deepest oceanic expedition in history, spending 31 days in an underwater laboratory. He has documented his explorations on PBS and travels the world to tell about the importance of oceanic conservation and exploration.
He spends about 250 days annually traveling, exploring, researching and teaching the importance of water. Later in the evening, he gave a presentation on that topic at an aquarium fundraising event, incorporating some of what he saw at the local watershed.
"We're very grateful to have this opportunity to reach a broader audience," aquarium spokesman Thom Benson said. "It's important for us to get people excited and interested in protecting the water, and he has a really nice audience to do that."
As the eldest grandchild of Jacques Cousteau, he has dedicated much of his life to carrying out the goals of his grandfather.
"Getting more people interested and invested in the conservation of aquatic ecosystems is something I truly believe is the essence of what my grandfather was always preaching," he said.