Philippe Cousteau, grandson of Jacques Cousteau, is a man on a mission. The environmental activist/explorer/entrepreneur wants to help protect the world's waterways. And he is looking to next generation to help him do it.

Earlier this month, Cousteau's new series "EarthEcho Expedition: Into the Dead Zone" launched online with the goal of engaging kids in environmental activism and helping them understand the issues facing one of the world’s largest aquatic dead zones located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The six-part "Into the Dead Zone" documentary series coincides with service learning videos, how-to videos, webinars, online tutorials, lesson plans, and community action guides that kids, parents and teachers can use to learn about the Chesapeake Bay dead zone and launch their own projects to help the environment. The series officially launched on Oct 9, but there is still plenty of time to catch up on what you missed and stayed tuned for future episodes.  

As he wias filming the expedition, Cousteau was gracious enough to sit down with me for a few minutes to chat about this project. In our interview, Cousteau reflects on why he decided to focus on the Chesapeake Bay in the first place, and why he thinks kids are our best chance for finding a solution.

MNN: Why did you decide to focus this EarthEcho Expedition on the Chesapeake Bay?

Philippe Cousteau: A year and a half ago, when we were thinking about the expedition, we decided we wanted to take EarthEcho’s work to the next level. For years, we had been focusing on specific issues such as energy, water, food, etc. We wanted to create something that would be more adventure — mainly inspired by what my father and grandfather did. Why should young people be denied an education that takes them on an adventure? So, we decided to look at big intractable problems happening in aquatic ecosystems – fresh and salt.

I have spent the last 10 years in the Chesapeake Bay area and it just seemed to be a good fit. Dead zones are an issue that plague over 400 locations in the world, from Southeast Asia to Europe to the U.S. What better way to talk about dead zones than the Chesapeake Bay — America’s Watershed? And it just happened to be in our backyard. Its story does a really good job encompassing the scale of the challenges we face from a water perspective in that the watershed extends all the way to Cooperstown, N.Y., affecting six states and 16 million people.

The goal for us is to help people recognize that we all live upstream from one another. But we decided early on when we launched this program that it wouldn’t be doom and gloom. We’re talking about these big problems … dead zones, ocean acidification, climate change … all these big issues. But we don’t want to focus on the problems. We want to focus on the solutions. That’s why this program focuses so much on the kids' service projects that are working to solve the problem. So that were looking at the problem through the lens of a solution.

What recommendations do you have for young kids who want to get involved in eco-activism?  

It’s really about asking yourself, “What do you care about?” Maybe it's straws. There’s this terrific kid in Maine who saw all the waste generated by straws handed out in restaurants. So he made up these little pop-up cards and asked restaurant owners put them on the tables to explain why straws wouldn’t be handed out unless requested. Of course, the restaurant owners couldn’t resist a 9-year-old kid, and so it worked. And now it’s a movement that has spread thoughout the U.S. and several countries and they reckon they have saved hundreds of millions of straws from going into the environment.

We’re really about telling kids about the big issues that we face and showing them models of other project that have worked. Find your spark. Get the creative juices flowing and figure out the best way to solve the problem. When you’re helping to protect the environment, when you’re saving money by reducing energy costs, when you’re protecting your water supply, when kids are engaged in their community — nothing but positive things will come from this.

What’s next on the horizon for EarthEcho?

This expedition is our first one out and we intend to learn a lot from it. We’re looking at issues around rivers, managing freshwater systems – everything from the Ganges River in Asia to the Colorado River in the U.S. We're also looking at ocean acidification — some folks refer to it as the other carbon problem.  And of course, climate change is a big issue. We're not sure exactly what the next expedition will tackle, but we do know that it will bring back that whole sense of Cousteau adventure and excitement and bring it straight into the classroom.

The idea is to get kids excited about science again. Science is fundamentally about asking a question. Science is poking a stick at something and seeing what happens. Science is cool! But it’s easy for that to get lost in textbooks sometimes. That’s what this expedition is all about. Science, exploration and adventure. And it doesn’t get more exciting than that.

Check out this trailer for the series and be sure to follow their journey on the EarthEcho Expedition website:

How Philippe Cousteau is helping kids find their eco-spark
MNN's family blogger chats with Philippe Cousteau about science, exploration, adventure and the eco-savvy kids who are changing the world.