Over a century after Charles Darwin first landed, the Galápagos Islands remain a living laboratory for studying the evolution of our planet and how best to protect it. Since 2004, Celebrity Cruises has sailed the breathtaking archipelago, leading the way in sustainable tourism while keeping the Galápagos wild.
Now, the Galápagos is still a testbed for evolution, a scientific wonder, and an important indicator of environmental change. The government of Ecuador has protected 97% of the Galápagos as a national park, and even today, the islands are largely uninhabited, home to a community of just over 25,000 people.
After centuries of minimal human disturbance, all global citizens have a responsibility to keep the Galápagos wild—and Celebrity Cruises takes that responsibility seriously.
“We have been in the Galápagos since 2004, and the one thing that we have learned from being there is how special, beautiful, wonderful, and life-changing it is to experience the Galápagos,” said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President & CEO of Celebrity Cruises.
Over the years of partnership, Celebrity Cruises has continued to strengthen their relationship with the local community and refine sustainable tourism in the Galápagos, welcoming visitors and scientists to the beautiful archipelago while proactively protecting the islands and their wildlife.
Since 2014, Celebrity Cruises has worked with local communities within the Galápagos to identify and support efforts that are important to the islands.
As part of their stewardship initiatives, Celebrity Cruises has worked with producers in the local community to create environmentally safe and sustainable food sources. They built greenhouses on the islands and provided additional support for local farmers’ associations through organic agriculture initiatives, which resulted in the creation of the hybrid “Galápagos tomato.” Celebrity Cruises also helped establish a fishing co-op, giving local fisherman a safe, clean processing plant for locals to prepare, store, and more efficiently sell their catch.
Now, hundreds of kilos of their organic, locally sourced produce and “daily catch” of fresh fish are purchased and served to guests, financially supporting the community while bringing the local flavor onto the ships.
“One of the things we're trying to do with Celebrity Flora is bring the destination on board,” said Brian Abel, Senior VP of Hotel Operations at Celebrity Cruises. “The Galápagos is a special place. One of the things that makes it really special is the people, and we really try to give back to that local community.”
Beyond the local food industry, Celebrity Cruises also supports community initiatives and renovations. Celebrity helped support the work of Centro de Educación Especial Galápagos, an institution that caters to students with disabilities and helps prepare them for their future.
“A dream totally come true to have a good space worthy of these kids with disabilities. It’s the most beautiful,” said Nancy Peralta Sánchez, Principal and Teacher at Centro de Educación Especial Galápagos.
And as part of a project to recover public spaces in the Galápagos, Celebrity helped renovate the Las Acacias neighborhood park, creating a space for children and families to safely play and have fun. Galápagos families now enjoy three soccer pitches that they sponsored for the local communities.
“We love the community, and we want to give back to the community for everything it has given to us and our guests over the past 15 years that we’ve been sailing here,” said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President & CEO of Celebrity Cruises.
Many Celebrity Cruises guests share a passion for protecting the environment, especially those who sail to the Galápagos Islands—one of the most scientifically important areas on earth. While passengers visit the archipelago, they’re offered opportunities and resources to learn about the local ecosystem and conservation efforts.
“One of the great things about the Galápagos is having naturalists on board,” said Brian Abel, Senior VP of Hotel Operations at Celebrity Cruises. “They know the land, the trails, the water in a whole different way.”
Each Galápagos cruise has a team of certified Galápagos National Park naturalists on board to educate passengers about the islands. Most of the naturalists are Galápagos natives, and all of them are scientific experts on the archipelago. They lead guests on all shore excursions, guiding them through the Galápagos while answering questions about its unparalleled ecosystem.
“As a scientist, I’ve learned a ton about new animals, new behaviors,” said Dr. Ellen Prager, Marine Scientist and Celebrity Cruises Galápagos Naturalist. “One of the things I love best about the Galápagos is you never know what you’re going to see. It’s a unique combination of animals and environment that you don’t find anywhere else because of the remote location and the way the ocean currents hit the islands.”
That dedication to maintaining the natural beauty of the archipelago inspires passengers to immerse themselves in the Galápagos and do their part for environment conservation. Since 2014, Celebrity Cruises has partnered with the Galápagos National Park to help guests get involved in conservation efforts, encouraging them to plant trees to support the Scalesia reforestation.
Scalesia trees are only found in the Galápagos, but the native tree’s ongoing deforestation threatens the future of the species and the entire island ecosystem. Scalesia forests create a natural canopy that blocks rainfall and prevent the soil below from eroding. Without the canopy protection, that erosion adversely impacts the wildlife that calls the forest home.
Since the partnership began, 90% of Celebrity Cruises guests have volunteered to take part in the project, venturing on shore to plant Scalesia seedlings in the Galápagos National Park. Together, they have planted more than 50,000 trees and made great strides towards restoring the damaged landscape.
“It's really about making sure that the land of the Galápagos and the environment is taken care of,” said Abel. “We have to make sure that we protect the local environment here, and by working closely with them, it allows us to do it in a really unique way.”
After touring the islands and learning from the naturalists, guests often feel compelled to leave a direct, lasting impact on the Galápagos preservation and conservation efforts. While on board, passengers are given the opportunity to make donations to The Galápagos Fund, which is managed in partnership with the Virginia-based Galápagos Conservancy. Since 2006, Celebrity Cruises and their guests have contributed over $1.5 million the fund and other projects in the islands.
For native naturalists and scientists around the world, the Galápagos islands are a living laboratory for studying the evolution of our planet and how best to protect it.
WWF’s Russell E. Train Education for Nature Program (EFN) invests in training and education for potential conservation leaders all over the world as they pursue graduate studies, attend short-term training courses, and train local communities. In partnership with EFN, Celebrity Cruises annually provides financial support to local conservation leaders addressing challenges in the Galápagos.
In 2018, Celebrity and EFN supported three emerging conservation leaders researching topics ranging from local food sourcing, to the tiny earthworm’s role in the environment, to park ranger working conditions.
Francisco Laso researched the relationship between conservation and food security in the Galápagos. By using drones to create maps of agricultural areas, Laso hopes that the Galápagos National Park will be able to better manage natural areas, protect native species, and improve food security for local communities.
Jaime Ortiz studied the effects on the Galápagos of the non-native earthworm population, which may be contributing to the spread of invasive plants. He has developed a strategy to lessen the impact of non-native earthworms on the islands.
Park rangers are the front lines of conservation—collecting data, protecting the park’s natural resources, and maintaining infrastructure for both scientists and travelers. But Oscar Carvajal, a public use technician at Galápagos National Park, noticed that park rangers’ working conditions were inconsistent from island to island, often lacking the training and equipment they needed to do their job properly.
Carvajal used the EFN program’s support to compare park ranger working conditions across the archipelago and create a standard baseline for their needs. His research is the first step towards getting park rangers the support they need for effective Galápagos conservation.
“Everyone talks about ecosystems in the Galápagos—plants, wildlife, and everything in danger of extinction,” said Carvajal, “but they don’t think about the people protecting these things. It’s very important to me that park rangers receive the training, equipment, and recognition they deserve.”
Today, Celebrity Cruises continues to partner with EFN and support efforts to conserve the Galápagos Islands’ incredible ecosystem. Especially as scientists continue to study the effects of climate change and pollution, conservation research and sustainable tourism are critical to protecting the archipelago’s future.
Launched in June 2019, Celebrity Flora was the first ship of its kind to be purpose-built for the Galápagos ecosystem.
The ship’s anchorless Dynamic Positioning system uses propellers and thrusters to maintain its position, which protects the seafloor from damage caused by dropped anchors. Flora also uses Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs) that are biodegradable, minimally toxic, and not bioaccumulative. And with in-room water filtration systems, supplemental solar panel energy, and an advanced propulsion system, Flora was built to reduce emissions and sustainably sail the archipelago.
“Designing Flora has been a very humbling experience,” said Francesca Bucci, President at BG Studio International, Inc. “It was really about getting in touch with nature. It was about making sure that this beautiful, natural environment comes first, and it’s all reflected in our design in a seamless way.”
Beyond the ship’s construction, Celebrity Flora was made to integrate the Galápagos into every aspect of its design. All of the fabrics on board are organic. The furniture was manufactured and designed by local furniture producers. The cuisine is prepared with hundreds of kilos of locally-sourced ingredients, and the ship’s crew is mostly Ecuadorian—with about half native to the Galápagos islands.
And from a passenger perspective, Flora deliberately immerses its guests in the Galápagos environment while providing resources and opportunities to learn about the unique islands. While on board, passengers can meet in the discovery lounge for in-depth discussions and educational presentations from the team of naturalists. The onboard lab also offers hands-on experiences explaining the science behind the ecosystem and the efforts to maintain it.
“We wanted to make sure we made a statement with this ship. That the Galápagos is a pristine, beautiful place in the world, and it is our desire and intention to preserve that in every way that we can,” said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President & CEO of Celebrity Cruises.
As part of that mission, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Celebrity Cruises’ parent company, partners with the University of Miami’s OceanScope program. Celebrity Flora is the first ship in the program outfitted to collect scientific data from the Galápagos islands.
Nearly 20 years ago, OceanScope began with a serendipitous meeting of two like-minded men traveling on the same airplane.
Jack Williams—then-president of Royal Caribbean International—and Dr. Otis Brown—former dean of the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS)—began discussing the importance of ocean-borne labs in climate change research. At the time, RSMAS was already collecting data from some maritime vessels, but in order to map ocean temperatures and dynamics, they would need data points from ships traveling consistent routes—ships like Royal Caribbean’s.
In 2000, Explorer of the Seas was the first Royal Caribbean ship to be outfitted with OceanScope’s comprehensive suite of oceanographic and meteorological instruments, recording real-time data on atmospheric and ocean conditions.
Since then, more than 200 scientific publications and presentations have been based on OceanScope’s data, which is freely disseminated and accessible to the global community of scientists. Explorer alone provided over two million measurements of oceanic dissolved carbon dioxide, and both NASA and the European Space Agency have used data from Royal Caribbean ships to calibrate satellite positions and track global climate change.
Now, although Oceanscope has moved off of Explorer of the Seas, the program has expanded to include four other Royal Caribbean ships, with Celebrity Flora the most recent addition and the first in the Galápagos.
“What’s unique about Celebrity Flora is that it will be going around and around a very critical piece of geography where large ocean phenomena intersect,” said Peter Ortner, Research Professor and Director Emeritus of the Cooperative Institute at the University of Miami.
As it sails the Galápagos, Celebrity Flora tracks the unique intersection of the archipelago’s seven currents, gathering data critical to research predictions of El Niño and La Niña. The ship will also simultaneously measure the Galápagos climate’s meteorological variables, water properties and temperature, and the partial pressure of carbon dioxide—the key measurement to determine ocean acidification.
Ocean acidification, a phenomenon discovered in part from data collected by the Explorer, describes how the ocean is absorbing most of the carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning, making the water more acidic. These changes make it difficult for corals and other creatures with calcium carbonate shells to survive, potentially threatening the stability of both the Galápagos and the global ecosystem.
“People don't realize the Galápagos is a global testbed for ocean acidification,” said Ortner, “that enables us to learn how species adapt, what we can do to help them adapt, and maybe which subspecies or genetic strains within a species are going to be able to survive.”
The data collected from Celebrity Flora is essential as scientists continue to track and research the effects of climate change. By understanding how the currents, weather patterns, and climate change shape the islands’ development, scientists can work to conserve the Galápagos ecosystem for years to come.
And as the ship sails, onboard digital displays generate the data in real-time, showing passengers the science behind the ecosystem. Alongside the naturalist presentations, these data displays will help educate guests on the importance of both sustainable tourism and environmental conservation.
“It’s my hope that [guests] will leave convinced that… this kind of oceanographic monitoring is very important… Not just to their great grandchildren or their grandchildren, but to them right now,” said Ortner. “There's nobody on this planet… that's going to be insulated from the changes the planet's experiencing. I want the people to ask questions, to leave curious and with a sense that that they can help.”