The mere mention of the name Cousteau elicits images of heart-pounding escapades, seminal ocean research and indefatigable conservation efforts. Three generations of Cousteaus have dedicated their lives to such endeavors, most notably beginning with the maestro Jacques Cousteau and his pioneering foray into scuba diving and underwater exploration.
It’s fitting that Philippe Cousteau Jr., Jacques’ grandson, opted to follow in the trailblazing wake of his father and grandfather. During a time when the health of Earth’s waters teeters on the edge of a knife, Philippe, 43, remains dedicated to solving global social and environmental problems. He’s spent decades spearheading ocean activism efforts—from lecturing at the United Nations to showcasing mysteries of an underwater universe on the television screens of millions.
It was during one such media affair that Philippe met his eventual wife Ashlan Gorse, a seasoned journalist and on-air host working at the time as a correspondent for E! News. Philippe’s impassioned crusade in the name of conservation was evident from the start, and the indelible impression, Ashlan says, was enough to contemplate a career pivot.
“I remember thinking, ‘Why am I not talking about people like him, rather than discussing the Kardashians getting a new haircut?’” she says, laughing. The duo clicked—personally, in the form of a 2013 wedding, and professionally, with each galvanizing the other to ameliorate the planet for generations to come.
Conservation research, speeches, television shows and documentaries followed, every project progressing beyond mainstream ocean sustainability efforts and into more Augean realms of restoration. But by 2019, the duo realized their cumulative efforts were vacant on one significant platform.
“We recognized the power wellness brands have, and in turn, the responsibility these brands have in making the world better,” Ashlan says.
And as a career oceanographer such as Philippe knows, few good-for-you ingredients promote both physical and ecological wellness better than seaweed and algae. “Seaweed is a superfood, one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet,” Philippe says. “It’s anti-inflammatory and helps with anxiety. The Omega-3s from algae are great for mood stabilization, for brain and heart health. It’s good for your skin, it’s hydrating, helps to build collagen. Even if you don’t care about all the eco-goodness, it’s just really bloody good for you.”
The eco-friendly, restorative elements of seaweed do, of course, matter to Philippe and Ashlan. During a time when half the world’s coral reefs are dead or dying, and an increasingly warm, acidic ocean unleashes new calamities upon its afflicted inhabitants, the simple seaweed plant stands ready as a formidable weapon to be wielded by conservationists.
“Seaweed helps de-acidify the oceans,” Philippe says. “It sequesters carbon, provides oxygen, creates a nursery for many of the ocean’s smaller creatures and provides jobs in a new industry.”
Philippe’s wheels were turning, but just as the pair began exploring wellness ideas, a global pandemic unraveled the traditional retail market. Shops, gyms, salons, bars and restaurants all shut their doors to a public suspended in a state of genuine uncertainty.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) outlined a list of essential businesses that would remain open. Cannabis dispensaries happened to be among them. So, during what will surely be remembered as the most anxiety-riddled, physically taxing period in recent history, the idea that would eventually become SeaWeed Naturals was born. Designed to combat anxiety and promote a healthy lifestyle, the impact brand offers harmoniously fused seaweed-cannabis wellness products combining the known benefits of cannabis with the regenerative powers of marine botanicals.
“We came into cannabis not because of cannabis itself but because we had a hero ingredient in the form
of restoratively farmed seaweed,” Philippe says. “Cannabis is, in many ways, the seaweed of the land. It sequesters carbon when it’s sungrown and helps with soil health. These are extraordinary land and sea ingredients that are meant for each other.”
Due to the abundance of seaweed-based cosmetic products already in existence, there was ample evidence the ingredient could be emulsified into other, more non-traditional uses. Still, the seaweed-cannabis formula didn’t come without its share of trial and error. “We had plenty of extra creams and gummies we had to sample around,” Ashlan says. “Our friends were very happy about that.”
SeaWeed Naturals’ ingredient fusion process begins at Atlantic Sea Farms in Maine, where area farmers are growing non-GMO verified, restorative seaweed as part of a gradual shift that’s breathing new life into a generational business decimated by climate change.
Warming waters and acidification have spurred the area’s longtime lobster inhabitants north into Canadian waters, leaving an economic chasm where there was once a dependable source of income. “Some of the Maine fishermen say that in 20 years there won’t be a lobster fishery anymore—at least not at the scale it exists now,” Phillipe says. “It’s scary. So, this provides these people with an alternative livelihood.”
Atlantic Sea Farms begins each cycle by ensuring farmers know the ins and outs of harvesting restorative seaweed. The farmers grow the ocean plant (some seaweed can grow up to an astonishing foot per day), then trade it back at the end of each season. The staff at Atlantic Sea Farms dry the seaweed, chop it and grind it into powder to be prepared for other products, which now includes cannabis.
“It’s all still relatively new,” Ashlan says. “There have been people growing seaweed, but buying seaweed is a more recent development. We saw our brand as a way to help drive demand for restoratively grown seaweed and support the local economy at the same time.”
Next, SeaWeed Naturals sources sungrown cannabis from select farms in California, many of which are legacy farms struggling to compete with large businesses hellbent on delivering the cheapest bulk product to consumers.
Diverting business away from grossly commoditized companies in favor of farmers who honor the plant, Philippe says, is an unflinching core value of SeaWeed Naturals.
“Think of lettuce that has been grown with a bunch of pesticides and herbicides versus something grown at a farm that you actually want to feed yourself,” Philippe says. “There’s a difference in quality and in value. We want to support these farmers, not big companies that have hoovered up all these warehouses. From a values perspective, that’s important to us.”
Values rooted in conservation continue to inspire Ashlan and Philippe, just as generations of Cousteaus before were once roused to pursue the extraordinary for the health of the planet. That generational authenticity has forged trust between a blossoming consumer base and a brand that, thanks to mainstream consumer familiarity with seaweed, hopes to be a bridge to normalize THC for the canna-curious.
SeaWeed Naturals is available in California, and the duo soon hopes to expand gradually into other states. Still, what awaits over an unexplored horizon—be it in the cannabis business or conservation—may never be known with any concrete certainty. But when has the unknown ever deterred a Cousteau?
As Philippe notes, devoting energy to an efficacious, restorative product capable of improving the planet, along with the lives of its denizens, is a voyage well worth the undertaking. “We always want to be part of that solution.”
Well, Jacques Cousteau certainly wouldn’t have it any other way.