Exploring the Amazon with Céline Cousteau and “Tribes on the Edge”

Every year Skype in the Classroom celebrates Earth Day throughout the whole month of April with virtual field trips to beautiful parks around the world, lessons on climate change, animals of all types, Skype sessions with oceans experts, and collaborations between classes on all of these topics.

This year we’re thrilled to celebrate Earth Day with explorer, activist and filmmaker Céline Cousteau, director of CauseCentric Productions, Founder of her namesake Film Fellowship, and granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau, with a special set of live Skype lessons available about the Amazon rainforest and its people.

Cousteau is releasing a new documentary in early 2018 called “Tribes on the Edge”, and she and the team will be connecting with classes around the globe via Skype throughout April to share what they learned on this expedition. Teachers can request a Skype lesson for their class here and also participate in a Twitter chat with Céline Cousteau on Friday, April 21st at 10am PT/1pm ET.

We caught up with Céline Cousteau to hear more about this important project.

Céline, tell us about Tribes on the Edge. What led you to want to tell this story?

Tribes on the Edge began as a story about the indigenous people of the Vale do Javari in the Brazilian Amazon. I was asked by the tribes to share their story with the world with the notion that a global knowledge of their existence can help them survive. But with time, it has become something much more global.

The tribes of this region collectively face threats to their land and a dire health crisis. This land is said to harbor incredible biodiversity and these tribes are the custodians of that ecosystem. Protecting tribal land rights is about protecting people and nature. In the end, this is about the global human tribe on the edge of forgetting about and losing the interconnection they have with each other and the environment.

What did you learn on this journey?  Tell us about the people you met.

There are close to 5,000 people from five different ethnic tribes. Plus, the Javari is home to the largest number of uncontacted people in the entire Brazilian Amazon. Spending time with the various (previously contacted) tribal groups, such as the Marúbo and Matis, allowed us to see the differences and similarities between the tribes—from what they hunt to how they speak and how they organize their community. But it is the challenges they face together that stands out as the most relevant to the story we’re telling.

Learning about their soaring rates of hepatitis was a catalyst to wanting to help. Numbers are quoted anywhere between 35 to 80% of the population having some form of hepatitis. This is an imminent and significant issue, but sadly, it is only one of the concerns. The threats to their land rights are a much greater issue because if they lose their land, good health alone won’t protect them from the incoming threats of oil exploitation and infrastructure. This latter challenge has become the driving force for the advocacy initiative of the Tribes on the Edge impact campaign.

Celebrating Earth Day with Celine Cousteau to learn more about her new documentary "Tribes on the Edge"
Photo courtesy of CauseCentric Productions
How are you and your team using Skype in the Classroom to reach students around the world with this important message?

The CauseCentric team—as well as our allies and greater network—has a tremendous opportunity to reach students around the world because of Skype in the Classroom. Conversely, students and teachers are offered the chance to speak to explorers, storytellers, journalists, anthropologists, nonprofits and more. Having direct access to these experts is a unique opportunity to learn how the Amazon and its people are connected and relevant to people around the world. Our hope is that we will be able to continue this effort past our initial April 2017 outreach. This will give us longevity in reaching more students around the world. We eventually hope to be able to connect straight out of the Vale do Javari (where communication is quite difficult—there are no cell towers and satellite connection can be tenuous) thereby creating a truly direct communication between the people of the Javari and students around the world.

What do you want students to know about the issues facing the Amazon and why it should matter to them?

As mentioned before, the Javari has incredible biodiversity, as has been declared by the IUCN*. Knowing that perhaps undiscovered plants could hold the formula for health issues faced around the world, we can see how that biodiversity could be beneficial to us. The challenge of indigenous land rights is therefore relevant to all of us because if their land is exploited and contaminated by oil, human lives will suffer—as will the environment. In addition (and pertinent not only to the Javari but everywhere across the Amazon), deforestation is an ongoing issue as it relates to its impact on climate change. Once more, this is an issue relevant on a global scale. These are issues we should all become more knowledgeable about.

Celebrating Earth Day with Celine Cousteau to learn more about her new documentary "Tribes on the Edge"
Photo courtesy of CauseCentric Productions
How can people help with this issue?

Share information!

One of the goals of the impact campaign is to create a robust communications outreach initiative so we may share the film and relevant information to a wide and varied audience. Everyone can help in spreading the message once the film is released but even before then, signing up for a session with one of our speakers or, in the fall, distributing our lesson plans is a great way to get involved. You can also contribute to help us grow our outreach campaign by donating here.

Also, support land rights!

Another goal of the impact campaign is the advocacy initiative to defend indigenous land rights in Brazil and communicate that effort internationally. People can get involved by helping fund the advocacy campaign that will be managed by our NGO partner Amazon Watch.

When is the documentary coming out?

We are targeting an early 2018 film release in festivals and for public screenings. We hope to organize a series of private screenings as early as Fall 2017.


Skype Master Teacher Karey Killian from Pennsylvania created a Sway presentation of her class’ virtual field trip to the Amazon. Scroll down on it to check it out:

Teachers: For more Earth Day classroom activities any day of the year, visit the Skype in the Classroom Earth Day collection. Travel around the world with zero footprint by participating in Skype in the Classroom activities. Invite guest speakers, schedule a Skype lesson or virtual field trip so your students can learn more about our beautiful planet. And continue the environmental lesson with a Minecraft: Education Edition lesson on deforestation.

You can also take the Introduction to Skype in the Classroom course to learn all about how to get started with free distance learning in your class and get 500 points towards your Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) badge.

Parents: Why not ask your school to get involved with Skype in the Classroom so your kids can experience the world live from their classrooms!

*Bertzky, B., Shi, Y., Hughes, A., Engels, B., Ali, M.K. and Badman, T. (2013) Terrestrial Biodiversity and the World Heritage List: Identifying broad gaps and potential candidate sites for inclusion in the natural World Heritage network. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, UK. xiv + 70pp.