At a cruise line, the oceans are omnipresent. They are our way of life, and respecting them is not a choice, but an obligation.
One in four shark and ray species is facing an increased threat of extinction due primarily to overfishing. Responsible shark and ray related ecotourism can be a powerful, complementary conservation strategy. It can also serve as an important supplementary source of income benefiting operators and local communities alike.
As part of our partnership, Royal Caribbean has committed to supporting World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) ocean tourism and coastal conservation projects in order to advance ongoing conservation efforts and continue to drive sustainability within the tourism industry.
In 2016, we contributed $100,000 to complete the Responsible Shark and Ray Tourism: A Guide to Best Practice. The educational handbook is aimed at travel companies offering tours that include observing sharks and rays.
The Guide includes the latest science-based guidance as well as practical, hands on tools like performance scorecards, checklists and example Codes of Conduct. It helps tourism operators develop guidelines appropriate to their local circumstances, such as species and location. With shark and ray tourism on the rise we are in a unique position to help promote responsible practices.
The magnificent butanding, known as a whale shark to most of us, is the star of the show at a small village in the Philippines called Donsol. It is the place to see these gentle giants in their natural environment - with the world’s highest concentrations - occasionally peeking their heads through the water’s surface. Thanks to a decade of solid intervention by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), butandings have a protected area to call home in the Philippines.
Donsol is not just a prime spot for whale shark viewing, but it’s a prime example of a place where conservation and development joined forces to provide economic growth and sustainable living for an entire community. For us, supporting these efforts is both a privilege and a responsibility, especially given that our largest population of at sea employees hails from the Philippines.
Our employees continue to be our biggest advocates, and we take great care to ensure they understand and support our major initiatives - such as our newly-formed relationship with WWF, which aims to reduce our environmental footprint and support ocean conservation work.
Our grant of $200,000 to WWF Philippines supports education conservation programs in the Donsol area. Part of the funds will target the youngest members of the community with a donated e-jeepney (mobile classroom) that will allow WWF Philippines to conduct educational tours and help build the next generation of conservationist - the children of the villages and surrounding area.
Donsol would not be the same without its sea-dwelling friends. To ensure their continued presence, a portion of the funds will help measure levels of plankton in the region’s rivers and coastal ecosystems – which have been determined as essential to the whale sharks return to the region.
At the root of improvement lies a lot of research. When it comes to climate change, the same is true. That is why the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) operates labs onboard our ships. With grants from our Ocean Fund, their OceanScope program captures oceanographic and atmospheric data important to climate change research.
The relationship began in 2000 when our, then-brand-new ship Explorer of the Seas, was outfitted with a comprehensive suite of oceanographic and meteorological instruments that provide real-time data on atmospheric and ocean conditions to scientists along the ship’s paths. The ship’s set itinerary - sailing from the U.S. northeast to Bermuda - created a perfect, and cost-effective, environment to gather important data points that measure ocean circulation dynamics.
Nearly ten years ago, through additional funding a next-generation system – AMOS (Automated Meteorological and Oceanographic System) – was developed to deliver data automatically – for months at a time – without operator interaction. At that time the M-AERI measuring satellite comparable sea surface temperatures and the ADCP measuring current also received upgrades.
Climate change affects sensitive marine ecosystems such as coral reefs, which are critically important habitats for marine species. As an integral provider of countless natural services, coral reefs act as natural barriers that protect coasts from ocean currents. Additionally, corals are a source of livelihood and sustenance to some of the poorest populations in the world.
Presently, Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas and Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Equinox are providing real-time data to scientists as part of OceanScope and data collected by the RSMAS labs on our ships have been cited in over 200 academic publications worldwide.