Sustainable Cruises: Most environmentally friendly cruise ships in Antarctica

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Sustainability is the word on everyone's lips, and the cruise industry is pouring money into green ship technology, from shoreside power to hybrid-powered vessels. No part of the cruise industry is more focussed on these issues than the expedition cruise sector, and on each of their websites you will find a whole section where they elaborate on the various pillars of their sustainability pledge, the technologies they are using, and the actions they are taking. But can travelling to Antarctica ever be sustainable? These are the most environmentally friendly cruise lines and sustainable cruises in Antarctica.

There are two key memberships which every expedition cruise operator highlights: IAATO (the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) and AECO (the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators). IAATO's stated aim is to advocate and promote the practice of safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to the Antarctic. AECO is dedicated to managing responsible, environmentally friendly and safe tourism in the Arctic and strives to set the highest possible operating standards.

Cruise lines which are signed up to these organisations collaborate with each other, and also with other stakeholders, in particular local communities (in the Arctic), global bodies such as the Antarctic Treaty System, and scientific research programmes. Contributions to science include financial, practical and logistical, as well as offering passenger support where it can be used, collaboration with onboard scientists, and of course the core education of guests who can then become ambassadors in their home communities.

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At any given time, there are up to 5,000 scientists in Antarctica, with a limited number of polar research ships available, 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.

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Individual cruise lines also have affiliations with a number of different programmes which include certification of delivery levels, contributions to membership programmes, and support in areas such as charity activity and political lobbying.

Most cruise lines have a foundation of their own, which has its own research programmes, and a range of affiliations to help them focus their sustainable charitable commitments. These are often part of a higher-level corporate commitment which is taken very seriously.

Most environmentally friendly cruise ships in Antarctica

AE Expeditions

As one of the only cruise lines with B Corp certification, AE Expeditions are certainly up there as one of the most sustainable cruise lines in Antarctica. B Corp certification covers five key areas: governance, workers, community, environment and customers, and all of AE's ships, Greg Mortimer, Sylvia Earle and the new-for-2025 Douglas Mawson have advanced systems that support their efforts to reduce GHG emissions, such as shore-power connectivity, Selective Catalytic Reduction systems, and a Ulstein X-bow. They are also 100% climate neutral, a certification achieved by measuring and offsetting their GHG emissions annually and implementing an emissions reduction plan that is in line with Science Based Targets, supporting efforts to ensure they are contributing to the protection of the fragile environments they visit such as Antarctica.

AE Expeditions also harness the power of 'citizen science', where cruise guests can actively participate in scientific research in Antarctica to aid conservation efforts such as partnering with Happywhale, a marine conservation organisation which encourages travellers to upload their photos of whales spotted while cruising and EyeSea, a platform that allows guests to use an app to take pictures of plastic debris in the water or on beaches along with geolocation data, contributing observations about the health and biodiversity of the ocean.

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Ponant

Ponant's Blue Horizon programme recognises its responsibilities towards the ecosystems that compose their destinations and the communities that live in them, and the company works to promote a more responsible and more sustainable form of tourism with six commitments at the core of everything they do. Ponant also has a formidable assemblage of awards and distinctions recognising its focus on sustainable and responsible tourism, including Green Globe certification, membership of the Mediterranean sustainable Cruise Charter, Bureau Veritas CLEANSHIP certification, Green Marine Europe certification, the Prix de Palmes du Tourisme Durable 2020, membership of New Zealand's Tourism Sustainability Commitment, the Zero Plastic Waste charter, the Ocean Approved label from La Fondation de la Mer, membership of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative and more. The Ponant charitable foundation also supports concrete initiatives that contribute to conserving and restoring ecosystems, acquiring and sharing scientific knowledge, and developing local communities.

Sailing in the pristine waters of Antarctica Ponant's state-of-the-art dynamic positioning system means that there is no need to drop an anchor that might damage a fragile ecosystem, such as on 245-guest Le Commandant Charcot, a electric hybrid vessel powered by Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Sailing in the Arctic and Antarctica with incredible sailings in the subantarctic islands and to spot emperor penguins, the ship is designed to have a minimal effect on the environment, with technological innovations such as hybrid propulsion and an advanced waste water treatment system. Ponant have also made the ship available to the scientific community, fitted with labs, equipment and rooms for personnel, allowing scientists to research and observe the poles in order to better protect these delicate environments.

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Seabourn

Seabourn is part of Carnival Corporation's 'Operation Oceans Alive', an environmental stewardship programme to protect oceans, seas and waterways such as those in Antarctica from environmental harm to ensure ecosystems, plant life and marine life thrive both now and in the future. They report annually on progress towards goals and aspirations, with strict governance in place to ensure that this is not simply a 'greenwashing' programme. This is alongside supporting Carnival's sustainability goals for 2030, including managing food waste, working to eliminate single-use plastics and embracing efficient energy.

They have 10 digesters across their fleet which help reduce carbon dioxide emissions and their newest ships which visit Antarctica, Seabourn Venture and Pursuit, use technology that reduce underwater noise radiation, and are fitted with LED lighting and chillers for AC units with variable frequency to reduce energy. Visiting Antarctica, they choose sites with minimal impact or footprint and their submarines are a low-impact way to preserve the enrichment and help their relationships with scientific communities through data from remote areas. Community involvement and support is one of the key areas of focus for Seabourn, for example their recent naming of the Wunambal Gaambera Traditional Owners of a region in the Kimberley as the godparents of Seabourn Pursuit was a symbolic gesture of stewardship and responsibility toward the environment and the communities the ships visit.

seabourn one of the most environmentally friendly cruise lines in Antarctica

HX Hurtigruten Expeditions

HX Hurtigruten Expeditions are committed to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals as their guiding principles to operate as sustainably as possible. The biggest investment was their two new-build ships, MS Roald Amundsen and MS Fridtjof Nansen, which are both hybrid-electric powered and display technology such as heat recovery systems and an innovative hull design, and visit Antarctica between November and March. The combination of these technologies reduces carbon emissions by over 20%, compared to similar sized cruise ships. Hurtigruten are also founding members of AECO (the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators), who support responsible, environmentally friendly and safe tourism in the Arctic. Additionally, they are members of IAATO (the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) who advocate and promote safe and environmentally responsible private sector travel to Antarctica.

HX also support 41 environmental, cultural and social projects in 11 different countries, from initiatives to protect Galápagos seabirds to to endangered orcas in the Pacific Northwest. On board you will be inspired by the Expedition Team, providing knowledge and education about ways to tackle global environmental issues and preserve animal welfare in the areas visited, and you will find menus of plant-based dishes and food management programmes aiming to reduce food waste by at least 30%.

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Quark Expeditions

Quark Expeditions is notable for sustainable innovation, including the first-ever CarbonNeutral voyage to Antarctica aboard Ocean Diamond. They are extremely committed to environmentally responsible tourism in Antarctica, particularity on Ultramarine, which has the latest environmentally-sensitive technology, and new ship Ocean Explorer which has fuel-efficient Rolls-Royce engines and a MAGS gasification system that converts waste into energy, eliminating the environmental impact of waste transportation.

Quark's Polar Promise includes aiming to reduce their carbon emissions per passenger by 10% through avoiding single-use plastics, partnering in the SeaGreen recycling initiative in Ushuaia and supporting key polar environmental research, community engagement and sustainable development projects and organisations such as South Georgia Heritage Trust, Penguin Watch, Seabird Watch, Polar Bears International and their Inuit Cruise Training Initiative called Nalunaiqsijiit, a programme dedicated to providing Inuit peoples of Greenland with qualifications and certifications to work on board expedition cruise ships through training and experience.

They have also joined their sister companies in the Travelopia Group to partner with Blue Marine Foundation, helping to conserve and restore ocean ecosystems such as those in Antarctica that have the potential to remove and store thousands of tonnes of carbon every year and protect the diversity of marine life, including endangered species.

quark expeditions one of the most environmentally friendly cruise lines in Antarctica

Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad's fleet sails across the world exploring destinations from Antarctica to the Arctic, and its carbon neutral status makes it one of the most sustainable cruise lines in Antarctica. As a 100% carbon neutral company Lindblad eliminates and reduces emissions wherever possible, and their partnership with South Pole, who run international emission reduction projects, includes investments in renewable energy, reforestation, and community-based efforts.

As well as eliminating single-use plastic, harnessing the power of citizen science and focussing on community relationships, Lindblad's partnership with National Geographic builds upon each company's shared legacy and passion for the natural world to provide guests with educational experiences. Each ship, such as on board sister ships National Geographic Endurance and National Geographic Resolution who sail in Antarctica, is equipped with specialised equipment including hydrophones and microscopes, used by the onboard experts and naturalists for their valuable research, as well as to enhance guests' understanding of the region being explored.

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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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