The Green Wave: Healthy Polar Regions = Happy Polar Passengers

November 18, 2019 - 7 minutes read

It doesn’t make much sense for expedition travel if every time we visit the polar regions we leave them worse than we found them. And that’s just considering things from a purely human perspective, which we don’t.

The polar bears, penguins, whales, seabirds, and other animals that depend on these regions surely have much more to say on this issue — and with a lot more expletives.

Taking their health and happiness into account, Oceanwide Expeditions strives to implement the most environmentally friendly mode of travel they can, ensuring those who cruise with them are exploring the polar terrain in the kindest way possible.

Here are a few ways we do this:

It starts with the ships.

More than the expedition groups hiking the icy shorelines or kayaking the berg-bejeweled bays, it’s the vessels visiting the polar regions that leave the largest footprint.

This isn’t just due to their size, but also their numbers: During the 2017-18 season, almost 60,000 tourists visited Antarctica alone, and most of them got there by ship. Indeed, that’s usually the only way to get to these remote locations.

So if the ships aren’t green, neither is the environment.

Oceanwide Expeditions seeks to mitigate this impact by offering two traditional sailing vessels carrying 20–33 passengers. And the MV Hondius, their newest vessel, was designed from the ground up to employ only the latest green technology.

Using LED lighting, steam heat, biodegradable paints and lubricants, and flexible power management systems that keep fuel consumption and CO2 levels low, Hondius is one of the world’s most environmentally safe ships.

Meanwhile, Oceanwide is installing two new engines in the MV Ortelius, another of their polar ships. These low-emission engines, like those in their other motorized vessels, comply with all the latest legislation.

They are also phasing out single-use plastics aboard all ships, opting instead for reusable water bottles included in each berth. Passengers can fill these bottles with desalinated water taken directly from the sea, further minimizing impact on the planet.

Cleaning polar beaches (and preventing contamination)

On top of making sure the ships are creating less pollution, it’s just as important to remove the pollution that’s already in the environment.

The bulk of Arctic waste washes to the shoreline, polluting feeding grounds. But in 2018, members of the Associated of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), of which Oceanwide Expeditions is a member, led 128 beach cleanups that eliminated over 40 tons of refuse.

These cleaning groups are composed mostly of tourists who volunteer their services during their cruise holidays, helping preserve an environment they’ve grown to love.

Not only that, Oceanwide assists in the documentation and analysis of Arctic litter: They are currently helping scientists like Wouter Jan Strietman monitor plastics and microplastics as part of his Arctic Litter Project with Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands.

As most Arctic plastics come from fisheries, part of this project is meant to instruct these large-scale sources of litter in better practices that will prevent future pollution.

To further prevent harm to the polar ecosystem, Oceanwide also works with scientists studying non-native species in the Arctic. For example, Martine Van den Heuvel-Greve, who studies invasive marine species in the Arctic.

Oceanwide passengers and crew must always clean their boots in solution when leaving or entering a vessel. Plastic, after all, is not the only polar contaminant.

Assisting polar climate research

Other long-term sustainability solutions lie in advancing our understanding of climate change, what its effects are, and how we can curtail (or possibly even reverse) its devastating impact.

Scientists in the polar regions — an area that represents the front line of climate change — are working hard to accomplish this by studying ice cores, weather fluctuations, and CO2 concentrations.

Oceanwide Expeditions host many of these researchers aboard their vessels and also hires some of them as lecturer-guides. This enables these scientists to share their findings with polar cruise passengers, who typically make for a highly receptive audience.

Moreover, Oceanwide sometimes deliver scientific equipment. For instance, they’ve been helping position ARGO floats since 2012. These floats measure water temperature, salinity, and pressure, all vital attributes for understanding how climate change impacts the oceans.

The risk-to-reward ratio of expedition travel boils down to a familiar conundrum:

On one hand, if nobody experiences these beautiful environments, how passionate are they likely to be about preserving them? On the other, it may be impossible to eliminate the impact of travel altogether, no matter how green your technology or strict your regulations.

This predicament’s obvious answer — and probably its most realistic — is that we must continue zeroing in on that ever-elusive balance between exposure and conservation.

To do this, Oceanwide has pledged to keep green-tuning their technology to the same extent that humans continue advancing their understanding of the vulnerable polar ecosystem.

Our end goal should be an expedition industry that protects the polar regions as much as it reveals their transformative beauty to the world. While these areas are too good not to share, they’re also too precious not to protect.

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