Sustainability at Sea
Sure, the entire travel industry is striving to become more sustainable. But the segment that operates directly and pretty much exclusively on the front lines of climate change—our oceans and waterways—has, arguably, the most in-your-face motivation. So much so that even the casual observer of the cruise world has probably started to notice, well, a sea change. From hybrid power sources to biological food waste digesters, here are several of the most intriguing eco-initiatives on the high seas.
In the bones
One of the most fundamental ways cruise lines are becoming more sustainable is the design of new ships. The Celebrity Flora, for one, launched in the Galapagos last year with solar-powered electricity, reverse osmosis-generated fresh water and dynamic positioning systems that preclude the need to drop anchor in fragile environments, among other measures. Similar dynamic positioning systems help the Scenic Eclipse reduce its impact on the polar (and other) regions it visits, as do advanced water treatment systems and engines. But perhaps no engine to date is more innovative than the MS Roald Amundsen's: Hurtigruten’s hybrid-powered expedition ship is the first in the world to combine battery packs with low-sulfur diesel (the line ultimately aims to be emissions-free). For its part, Ponant Cruises plans to launch Le Commandant Charcot, the first luxury electric hybrid ship, to reach the North Pole in 2021 (even the paint on the hull was specifically designed to reduce friction—and therefore energy consumption).
All about the amenities
Hurtigruten was also among the first cruise lines to stop using single-use plastics, opting instead for refillable bath amenity and water bottles—and hairdryer and laundry bags made from upcycled hotel linens. In fact, even certain staff uniforms are made largely from fisherman-sourced recycled ocean plastic (we know: if that isn't a line from Portlandia, it should be). Carnival has since gotten on board in its on way, aiming for a 50-percent reduction in single-use packaging, plastic and service items across the fleet by the end of 2021. For now, the line has eliminated single-use items that are often difficult to recycle—think foil-wrapped butter, sugar packets, toothpicks and plastic straws—and has also pulled the brakes on balloon drops and plastic glow sticks. (Fear not, revelers: You'll find biodegradable streamers at on-board celebrations instead.) But some of the most advanced eco-conscious amenities to hit the high seas are the wearable tech bracelets that Virgin Voyages is launching aboard its new Scarlett Lady. One of countless sustainability measures Virgin Voyages is implementing, this collaboration with Bionic Yarn has yielded recycled ocean plastic bracelets that multitask as room keys, shipboard currency and more.
Though the all-you-can-eat buffets are steadily giving way to all kinds of refined onboard dining experiences, food waste remains an issue—and lines are getting creative about tackling it. Oceania Cruises, which recycles 100% of any recyclable materials, converts cooking oil to bio-fuel, for example. For its part, Carnival is installing biological food waste digesters across its fleet by 2021.
Private island innovations
Though a tropical island that's exclusive to guests of a particular cruise line is nothing new, this one is: Through an extensive island and ocean cleanup (with an estimated 1500 tons of waste removed), plus the safeguarding of 400 coral colonies and introduction of thousands of native plants, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve has just become a little eco-oasis in the Bahamas. Guests of MSC Cruises, of course, have the place to themselves—save for the marine biologists who'll be working onsite. Other cruise-run islands are becoming more eco-conscious as well, with everything from resident naturalists, as you'll find on Belize's Harvest Caye if you're traveling with NCL, Oceania or Regent Seven Seas Cruises to the world's first carbon-neutral private cruise island, as Royal Caribbean intends to create in Vanuatu next year.
Another essential element of sustainability is community relations, whatever form that takes. Ecoventura, for example, recently partnered with the Charles Darwin Foundation and Galápagos National Park Service to establish the Galápagos Biodiversity & Education for Sustainability Fund, whose beneficiaries include local scholarship recipients. (To the shock of many first-time visitors, the Galápagos do have actual human inhabitants among all those iguanas, sea lions, penguins and blue footed boobies.) Meanwhile, through a partnership with Clean the World, Carnival has become the first large-scale cruise line to donate used soap bars to be sterilized, reconstituted and distributed to at-risk communities around the world that need hygiene products. And the National Geographic-partnered (and carbon-neutral) Lindblad Expeditions, whose adventure cruises visit some of the most remote communities on earth, supports a number of local craftspeople through the LEX-NG Artisan Fund.