A Greener Future: Sustainability at Sea


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Sustainability is front of mind for the cruise industry and understandably even more so for the expedition specialists, anxious to minimise their impact as they explore the wilderness areas of the world. Is there a greener future ahead for expedition cruise travel?

This is not just about the obvious questions of new fuels, electric ships, waste management and heat recycling on board, but also about 'regenerative tourism'.

The guiding tenet of sustainable tourism has essentially been 'don't make things any worse', echoing the Hippocratic Oath's instruction to 'first do no harm', whereas regenerative tourism takes this a step further and looks at how we can leave destinations in a better state for future generations.

A growing number of expedition cruise lines such as Lindblad, HX Hurtigruten Expeditions, Ponant and AE Expeditions (who have just achieved B Corp certification) not only carry out their own research on board or host scientific programmes, but are also harnessing the power of 'citizen science', where cruise guests can actively participate in scientific research to aid conservation efforts.

The research being carried out by expedition ships is a serious scientific endeavour that represents an innovative way of leveraging the global reach of the cruise industry.

At any given time, there are up to only 5,000 scientists in Antarctica, with a limited number of polar research ships available, against approximately 80,000 tourist visitors during the summer cruising season. It's a similar story in the Arctic, with scientists and policymakers relying largely on short-term projects funded at a national level, and with a limited number of ice-capable and icebreaker vessels available.

Expedition cruise ships can play a crucial role in monitoring the fragile ecosystems of the polar regions, collecting data that will inform policy responses to environmental challenges such as microplastic pollution, ocean acidification and climate change.

HX Hurtigruten Expeditions, Ponant and AE Expeditions partner with Happywhale, a marine conservation organisation which encourages travellers to upload their photos of whales spotted while cruising. Happywhale then use sophisticated image-processing technology to identify individual whales, and track their movements around the globe.

On a similar note, AE Expeditions work with eBird to carry out seabird surveys, where onboard ornithologists and naturalists will guide your efforts to spot birds at sea and count numbers ashore.

You can also take part in The Big Microplastic Survey, taking samples on shore visits following strict scientific protocols, which will then assist scientists in identifying exactly where these plastics have accumulated.

Other citizen science activities include collecting cloud data for NASA, heading out in a Zodiac to map phytoplankton in the fjords of western Antarctica, monitoring leopard seal populations on the Antarctic Peninsula, and mapping sea ice conditions in the Arctic.

These programmes give visitors a better understanding of the various issues impacting on the regions they are visiting.

A more passive tourist in the polar regions might be struck by the 'pristine' appearance of the icy landscapes, but once you become a more active participant, for example by helping to comb remote beaches in the Arctic for plastic waste, you will come away with a greater appreciation for the ways in which our world is truly interconnected, making you a genuine ambassador, returning home to champion the protection of the planet's most fragile ecosystems.

Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Adventures. Her most recent adventure was a cruise on Silver Origin and she has also sailed with Seabourn, Ponant and Aqua Expeditions. Her favourite adventure destination is the Galapagos however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, Brahmaputra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Mekong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and the Arctic. When she’s not travelling she loves reading, food and wine.

More about Edwina

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