DEEPWATER drilling west of Shetland should not be permitted until adequate safeguards are in place to prevent a major oil spill, one of the most famous names in underwater exploration warned yesterday.
Jean-Michel Cousteau said the recent leak from a North Sea pipeline operated by Shell showed oil companies needed to do more to guard against pollution.
The son of the legendary ocean adventurer Jacques Cousteau also called for a rapid shake-up of European Commission quota rules which force fishermen to discard dead fish back into the sea.
But the film producer, who spent part of his boyhood in Elgin, insisted there was much to be positive about – not least the opportunities being created from the emerging marine renewables industry taking shape around the coast of Scotland.
Mr Cousteau was in Aberdeen yesterday to share a lifetime of experience with scientists and fans.
He addressed a 950-strong audience of delegates from 74 countries on the first day of the World Marine Biodiversity conference at the AECC’s Press and Journal arena, then gave a public talk at the Music Hall last night.
He recently returned from Louisiana where he saw the devastating effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on wildlife and local communities and said everything possible must be done to prevent it happening again.
“What happened in the Gulf of Mexico could have been avoided if people hadn’t tried to take short cuts with safety,” he said.
“Unless the oil companies can prove to us ahead of time they have measures to protect against another Deepwater Horizon – and I am not happy they can – they should not be going ahead in places like Shetland and Brazil.
“We need to shift our focus on to new, cleaner energy sources – like wind and solar power and underwater turbines.
“There is a lot to be positive about, we are living in very exciting times.”
Mr Cousteau was first “thrown overboard” by his ocean-exploring father at the age of seven and has devoted a lifetime to continuing his work.
In 1999 he founded the Ocean Futures Society – a non-profit marine conservation and education organisation, which won acclaim for the way it studied and cared for Keiko, the captive killer whale whose return to the wild in 2002 inspired the film Free Willy.
He has produced more than 80 films of his own and won numerous awards, including an Emmy.
In 2006, he was invited to show one documentary, Voyage to Kure, at the White House as part of his campaign to protect the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and persuaded then-president George Bush to declare the 1,200-mile chain a Marine National Monument – the biggest protected area of its kind in the world at the time.
Mr Cousteau said his role was to communicate to the public – particularly children – the good work being done by scientists and to bridge the gap between environmentalists, industry leaders and politicians so they might all find workable solutions to the problems facing the seas.
“When I was young my dad told me ‘people protect what they love’, and I used to think ‘how do I protect what I don’t understand’.
“That is what my work has been about – helping everyone to understand the oceans so we can all take better care of them.
“The effects of other pollutants like plastics, chemicals, heavy metals might not be obvious to the eye, but they are entering the food chain through the oceans and that affects all of us.”