The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge and refuge staff hosted Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of famed oceanographer and explorer Jacques Cousteau, for a behind-the-scenes refuge tour last Thursday.
Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik and Refuge Biologist Tara Wertz explained to Cousteau the conservation work and research taking place within the refuge and the challenges the area faces protecting local wildlife and its habitat.
After the tour, refuge volunteer Joyce Mutz hosted a brunch at George & Wendy’s Corner Grill on Sanibel in Cousteau’s honor with DDWS board members, refuge staff, a small group of Society donors and volunteers, and other island conservation group representatives.
“With more than 65 percent of Sanibel set aside as conservation property and so many individuals and organizations working toward similar goals, the Society board was pleased to invite the other conservation organizations to join us and meet Mr. Cousteau,” said Birgie Vertesch, executive director of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society.
In addition to DDWS members, representatives from the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, CROW (Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife), PURRE (People United to Restore our Rivers and Estuaries), Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Sanibel Sea School and the Sanibel Chapter of START (Solutions To Avoid Red Tide) attended the brunch.
“When we asked how many of the guests had ever seen 'The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau' TV series, nearly every hand shot up in the air with enthusiasm,” said Vertesch. “Jacques Cousteau inspired thousands of people worldwide to want to learn about the ocean and what lies beneath it.”
Fabien Cousteau spoke briefly to the group, emphasizing what a special community Sanibel is and talking about his work.
“To honor my grandfather’s 100th anniversary last year, I started the non-profit ‘Plant A Fish’ organization,” he said. The organization’s mission, he explained, is to empower communities around the world to become involved with responsible replanting of key marine species in distressed bodies of water. Projects include the replanting of oysters in the New York Harbor, sea turtles in El Salvador, mangroves in South Florida and corals in the Maldives.
“The work my grandfather started so many years ago in trying to educate and inspire people to want to save our waters is just as important today, if not more so,” said Cousteau. “It’s important that we all do our part to make a difference in protecting our water.”
“The common theme for the brunch was the importance of working together to achieve the best results in protecting wildlife and ultimately human life,” said Vertesch. “The Society was honored to host Fabien Cousteau, and he felt the same to be surrounded and welcomed by people and organizations all working toward a shared goal.”
As a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, DDWS works to support J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s mission of conservation, wildlife and habitat protection, research, and public education through charitable donations and Refuge Nature Shop proceeds.
To join DDWS and support the refuge, visit www.dingdarlingsociety.org or contact DDWS Executive Director Birgie Vertesch at 472-1100 ext. 4. CHELLE KOSTER WALTON