CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) – Philippe Cousteau denounced as “scandalous” the State of South Carolina’s attempt to circumvent federal protections for North Atlantic right whales, one of the most endangered species of whales on Earth. “I think it’s scandalous and I think it’s criminal that people don’t want to make changes to their behavior to preserve these creatures,” said Cousteau, a grandson of pioneering oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. “After all, there are only 300 left.”
South Carolina legislators want to exempt the state’s harbor pilots from new speed restrictions along the whale’s annual migratory route.
“It kind of reminds me of the situation in Florida with the manatee,” Cousteau said. “Would you believe there’s actually a group down there called ‘BAD: Boaters Against manatees’? Why would you not care if you struck and killed or injured one of these creatures?
“It still mystifies that some people don’t realize we share this planet with other creatures, and that it’s not all about us.”
The federal regulation, developed under the Endangered Species Act, took effect in December. It sets a new speed limit of 10 knots – about 11.5 mph – for boats 65 feet or longer. An average of two North Atlantic right whales are struck and killed each year, mainly by large vessels traveling at high speeds, federal regulators said.
But members of South Carolina’s legislature contend that given the Port of Charleston’s proximity to the ocean and the fact its harbor pilots use two 75-foot boats – somewhat longer than those at other ports – to steer some of the world’s largest oceangoing vessels to dock, the rule unfairly disadvantages Charleston’s maritime community compared with other communities along the whale’s migratory route.
Hoping to take advantage of a partial exemption in the rule for law enforcement vessels, the S.C. House Judiciary Committee is considering a measure placing the state’s harbor boat pilots within the South Carolina Naval Militia, a new agency.
South Carolina is the only state along the endangered whale’s coastline hugging migratory route to challenge the speed restriction.
Cousteau, son and namesake of the late Philippe Cousteau Sr., visited Charleston to receive a legacy award at the South Carolina Aquarium’s annual Environmental Stewardship Awards banquet.
His elder sister Alexandra was also honored. She is engaged in an expedition on the Mississippi River for a Web-based documentary.
Together the two, along with their mother Jan, run EarthEcho International, an environmental nonprofit that seeks to extend the legacy of Philippe Sr., Jacque’s designated successor, who died in 1979 while on expedition in Portugal.
Philippe is also a principal and founder of Azure Worldwide, a company that seeks to create strategic alliances to foster sustainable, eco-friendly and eco-based development worldwide.
Cousteau said issues like that of the right whale are why he feels it’s important to play a role in conservation and encourage others to do the same.
“The problems we face are myriad, and as a result it’s critical to connect the dots, whether it’s between the community and the sea, or civic action and consumer behavior, which in turn affects corporate behavior.”
Of late, engaging government officials has also taken up a considerable amount of his time. Last month, he was one of several high profile speakers on Capitol Hill who speak against expansion of offshore drilling.
“Dealing with governments is tough. … We’re seeing a shifting tide, though,” he said. “One of the things I find truly heartening is that despite the troubled economy, people are still talking about the environment. That never happened before.
“It’s finally dawning on people that when we destroy the environment, we hurt the economy as well.”
Cousteau cited the example of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
“In doing development the way we’ve traditionally practiced it, we destroyed the wetlands that could have controlled the storm surge and mitigated the effects of the hurricane,” he said. “There’s just no question about that and that failure continues to cost the American taxpayer – every one of us – to this day.
“Worst of all, we’ve spent $100 billion to bring the Gulf Coast back and we haven’t even scratched the surface. And that’s to say nothing of the futures that have been lost or deferred and the productivity we’ve lost in the region.
“Put simply, I think the way we’ve gone about developing our country shows a complete disdain for our environment and ourselves,” he said. “There are people all over this country who have commutes of two hours or more each day, who live amidst the urban sprawl, and are completely disconnected to the environment.
“Today, we build the same house in Alaska as we do in Arizona. We spend more time alone in our cars than we do with our families or doing things for our community. It just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “All these things make me wonder, ‘What have we done to ourselves?’ We really have built ourselves a stupid world.”