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Fabien Cousteau

“We are the only oasis in space” that we know of, said the grandson of legendary ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau on Saturday, September 24, in Waxahachie. That oasis, he added, exists because of water.

Fabien Cousteau was the keynote speaker at the 2016 Waxahachie Chautauqua, a day-long celebration of education and culture with the theme: “World of Water.” An ocean explorer and filmmaker in his own right, this champion for the world’s oceans and marine life calls himself a “story maker,” adding that water is “the most precious commodity in the universe – without it, we simply do not exist.”

His address was personal, full of anecdotes about his grandfather and his grandmother, who, he noted, was “the true captain of Calypso.” She spent more time on board, he said, than his grandfather, his father and his uncle combined. Fabien was born into “the family business,” and like his relatives, is committed to telling the stories, capturing the images and “protecting the health” of the world’s oceans.

Two years ago, he and five companions participated in “Mission 31,” a scientific endeavor to study the effects of living in the depths. The research mission was also designed to break the 30-day record set by his grandfather and a team of six “oceanauts” on Conshelf II in 1963.

Cousteau told the audience about the constraints of living in close quarters on Aquarius, the last existing undersea habitat, and noted that knowledge gained from such experiences helps today’s astronauts prepare for extended tours at the International Space Station.

But the big discoveries, he explained, have to do with the creatures that inhabit the world’s oceans. He spoke of “symbiotic curiosity” – the importance of taking into account the existence of other species for our own well-being. “The ocean needs our attention,” he stated. “There is a lot of metaphorical gold down there for us to discover,” he added. “It is truly the last frontier on this planet.”

Cousteau noted that he currently travels extensively, about 240 days each year, bringing the message to as many people as possible. He recently formed a non-profit organization, The Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center, as a way to create positive change.

He noted, in the words of his grandfather, that “People protect what they love, they love what they understand, and they understand what they are taught.” So, he concluded, education is key. “We must treat our planet with respect, with love and with understanding.”

Four other speakers also took to the Chautauqua stage during the day: David Cohen, CEO of Green Phoenix Farms of Mansfield and Burleson, with an Introduction to the World of Aquaponics, a method of growing fish and produce together in a closed loop soil-free system that is all natural and is extremely water efficient. “Water. Conservation. Architecture.” was presented by landscape architect and urban designer Kevin Sloan of Dallas. His work “involves a synthesis of landscape and buildings,” and projects grace urban spaces throughout the Metroplex.

Another presentation detailed the discovery, recovery and restoration of the French expedition ship that ran aground in Matagorda Bay in 1687. Relics and artifacts, as well as a large portion of the hull are now on display at the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin. Brad Jones of the Texas Historical Commission was the speaker. In addition to a manning a table and exhibit in the Chautauqua Display Tent, George Chrisman, coordinator of the DFW Chapter of Heroes on the Water, told attendees of the ways the organization aids veterans through the therapeutic effects of fishing from kayaks. Founded in 2007, the organization now numbers 74 chapters in 34 states.

The 2016 Chautauqua presentations also featured a variety of musical programs, including water-themed Gospel melodies, sea shanties by the Stonhenj Players, and tunes played on water-filled glasses by Brian Engel. A special Chautauqua stage presentation featured SMU Professor Emeritus Larry Palmer on the harpsichord and baritone Daniel Bouchard.

There were flights of drones as well as birds of prey, and a U.S. Postal Service exhibit featured water-related stamps as well as a chance to send a post-card or a specially-designed imprinted envelope with a one-day-only Chautauqua postmark. There was little chance for boredom, with free face painting for kids, a bubble show by Linda Berman, information about helpful honey bees (who also need water!), the Prairieland Groundwater Conservation Trailer, information about rain barrels and water harvesting as well as a demonstration of “bionic leaf” technology that creates fuel from sunlight.

The Texas A&M Chemistry Road Show, with Dr. Jim Pennington, closed the program with a scientific “magic show” that captivated young and old alike.  

It was truly a day to savor, and it lived up to the Chautauqua goals of education, culture, entertainment and lifelong learning. If you missed it this year, mark your calendars for the last Saturday of September 2017. Planning for next year’s Waxahachie Chautauqua has already begun, according to organizers.

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