Our responsibility as a community in sustaining the environment
Caroline Blatter 05 Jun 2018
It is hard to call a superyacht eco-friendly. The fuel it burns, the materials that it is built with, the luxury standards of the onboard supplies and furnishings are not conducive to saving the environment, the unspoilt beauty of which is the very essence of the ultimate experience of being afloat.
Yet, in recent years modest but regular strides are being taken both at the core of the superyacht industry, and by individuals and communities to try to reduce the carbon footprint that superyacht lifestyles can leave in their wake.
Superyachting carries with it the lifestyle culture of all things in excess and several decades ago protecting the environment was never a consideration for owners and crews: times are changing as people become increasingly aware of just how precious what remains of our natural environment actually is.
Not just yachts but yachting event organisers and clubs are also realising the importance of leaving a minimal foot print behind them.
To give just one example Costa Smeralda Yacht Club was one of many who have adopted a sustainability policy, eliminating single use plastic bottles from their yachting events two years go. The marina the club owns at Virgin Gorda in the Caribbean ( Damaged by the unprecedented Hurricane season of 2017) had been installed with a pump out station to discourage pumping out in Caribbean waters. Meanwhile other clubs and regatta organisers are following suit...the challenge is there - for superyacht events and shows, to lead the way!
The highest profile changes come from national and international regulators. The United States has opted to impose its own unilateral obligations, which came into force in 2016 in North America and the US Caribbean. The results were that all newly built boats over 24m long and with a gross tonnage of 500 tonnes or more have had to cut their hazardous sulphur and nitrogen oxide emissions by nearly 80%. The new builds are being fitted with gear that can convert nitrogen oxides into harmless nitrogen and water. The new US rules apply to all types of new boat, it is their impact on superyachts that will be most noticeable. Environmental campaigners want to see superyachts – who have historically had to meet few environmental obligations to reduce their sizeable diesel emissions – reined in.
National Marine Parks worldwide are being set up to protect the natural beauty of the world - so that sea life, coral, reefs and shoreline vegetation are protected, encouraging visitors to have close contact with nature in a regulated, considerate & educated fashion. It is therefore paramount that yachts follow regulations when entering Marine Parks & areas of preservation.
Modern technology producing efficiency can save money too: while the collective conscience is playing its part in making superyachts more efficient and therefore less costly to the environment, market forces are equally driving away the bad habits. The initial building techniques see designers and builders pioneering to build yachts with far less wasted by-products. A lot more innovation is being built into onboard systems, from hybrid engines to onboard renewable energy generation such as wind and solar power cells, to improved propeller shapes and low energy LED lighting – all these factors playing a part.
Reducing fuel emissions is the single most significant area of environmental impact. Solar Hybrid Propulsion Systems that are fuelled by a combination of solar, wind, wave and biomass diesel power are also under development and already fitted to advanced vessels.
Luxury sailing yacht captains too are thinking about the importance of using sails rather than engines, wherever possible.
Sean Prosser, Captain of 47.50m motor yacht Happy Days reports “Our crew are starting to become more aware of their impacts and changing techniques to reduce their effects to the environment.” However, he is aware there is still a long way to go in some areas. “I have spent the last three years all around Asia and have not seen a single place that recycles.” The yacht tries to use environmentally friendly cleaning products when they can though. “We’ve also been on beach cleans with the boss’s kids!”
The Captain & crew from S/Y Rebecca also report some great changes on board. “Rebecca uses environmentally cleaning products,” Tracey tell us. “But the biggest difference I have found over the last year on Rebecca is that she no longer orders bottled drinking water or any beverages that come in plastic bottles for regular crew and race crew. You can imagine how many bottles of water the race crew go through on a daily basis! The boat now has Nalgene bottles with the Rebecca shell logo on them that are washed and refilled daily.”
So to all of you on yachts & ashore...think about changing your ways: "Refill or landfill" is Nalgene's slogan!
Superyachts on the data trail
Environmental organisations are realising the synergy of partnering with the global superyacht fleet.
Twenty years ago the International SeaKeepers Society started placing measurement equipment on board superyachts to record data, using them as platforms for marine research, education & to deploy oceanographic instruments. The information enables scientists to measure the state of the ocean in its current state and helps raise awareness about global ocean issues, in order to preserve marine life and keep the water clean.
Just last month, the 222ft (67.75m) Feadship Archimedes supported Florida International University to measure the marine wildlife in the wake of last year’s Hurricane Irma. The yacht travelled to the south coast of Antigua, and used under water video to measure the presence of sharks and other marine life. Superyacht owners and also leading yacht builders and other yacht partners are supporting the work of the International SeaKeepers Society through an annual membership fee.
Meanwhile across the Atlantic in the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Asociacion Ondine, although not a yacht-based organisation, has also enlisted the active support of several superyachts to support their scientific research programmes which are carried out by a working group of marine scientists, divers and volunteers. Their data and information determines the selection of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around the Balearic Islands.
Like Seakeepers, Asociacion Ondine has asked superyachts and their crews to get involved via an app which allows users to send information about marine life and debris in the vicinity Automatically connected to GPS data, the app quickly builds up a collective intelligence database about the local environment, helping to make Asocacion Ondine’s work more efficient in terms of knowing where wildlife and debris is located. Knowing where rubbish is accumulating can help locate beach clean ups and eventually identify sources of the rubbish to stop it accumulating in the first place.
Helping with disaster relief
The ‘hands on help’ approach extends to the yachts themselves too. Making use of these large vessels that can cover huge distances effortlessly, means that it is possible to combine a cruising itinerary with a humanitarian or environmental mission. YachtAid Global sums it up in their strapline ‘changing the world without changing course’. YachtAid Global finds vessels to transport donated goods, either from origin straight to destination, or by moving the goods to a location closer to their ultimate destination. Superyacht Services Guide has a strong relationship with YachtAid global and helped raise funds for children’s Christmas gifts on the storm-battered island of Dominica. YachtAid Global director Tim Forderer arranged the gifts to be delivered by Sea Shephard which just made a small detour on her way south from Florida.
The great beach clean-up momentum
While the yachts themselves make developmental progress in their environmental impact, there’s another big contribution the superyacht fleet can make to the environment, and that’s the actions of their community. Increasingly the superyacht community worldwide are incorporating the care for the marine and coastal environment into their daily lives both onboard and ashore, in locations which can often be ecologically sensitive.
Communities are springing up across social media, made up of like-minded eco-enthusiasts from the boating world. YachtCrew Environmental Society (YES) is a group of like-minded people based around Barcelona who are trying to make a difference in the fight against plastic pollution. The brainchild of Carol Benbrook, captain of the 52m motor yacht ‘S’, YES uses the power of social media and word of mouth to rally the crews of yachts that are in port at Barcelona at any given time. “We have a meet up each week”, explains co-founder Kerry Allerton who is Operations Manager at Evolution Yacht Agents in Barcelona. “Sometimes four people come along, sometimes 50.” YES organises regular beach clean ups in the area. “We’ve had crews from ‘S’, Triple 7, Odessa, Alpha Nero and several others coming along,” Kerry tells us. “At the beginning of each session we have a chat about helping in the fight against pollution and swop a few ideas. A couple of the captains have been along and we have talked about what changes could be made on board. It’s not always easy to make the changes you want, but gradually people adopt new ideas. Captains have reported that they are reducing the use of plastic water bottles, and arranging for food deliveries to come in re-usable crates instead of wrapped in plastic”
The YES beach clean-ups are featured on their facebook page so any yachts calling into Barcelona should get in touch. “We’ll fill up an industrial sized black bag each week,” says Kerry. “The coast here is very busy so inevitably there is always rubbish, but perhaps we are making some difference.”
Over in Antigua, AdoptaCoastline is doing the same thing, keeping the coasts and beaches clean for the large number of visitors to enjoy. The challenges in the area are huge, with so much post-hurricane debris washing upon the beaches but the volunteers are not put off. They are expanding their clean ups from the local area around Falmouth Harbour to other parts of Antigua. Jennifer Meranto explained “We share our beach clean up plans on Facebook with the Antigua Yacht Crews page. We get full crews from the boats as well as individuals coming along to help.” Jennifer told us “I started AdaptaCoastline because as an artist I look for materials I can use along the beaches. I could see that more and more trash was accumulating and no one was cleaning it. I started out with the idea that one person can make a difference.” The efforts of those involved have already cleared away the debris that has accumulated over time. Adoptacoastline has just received funding from the UN for a youth stewardship programme. Not all Jennifer’s observations are positive though. She says “Much more needs to be done. Local day crews are not monitored well enough. Evidence of painters, sprayers, cleaners, gloves masks and other items wash ashore daily. More training is needed about the hazards of poor waste management.”
Caroline Blatter of Superyacht Services Guide also took part in a beach clean herself. Helped by her youngest daughter she joined in a Surfers Against Sewage beach clean at Hayling Island in the UK. She was shocked at the amount of nurdles washed up on the beach – small plastic pellets that are the raw material which nearly all our plastic goods are made from. Join the Nurdle Hunt: findings will help persuade the plastics industry to take more responsibility for zero nurdle loss down drains, into estuaries & the sea. With research and communities coming together to pressure the larger plastics industry, small steps will be made to make changes.
A few years ago some governments passed legislation to put charges on plastic bags being given away previously in shops; now the same movement has gathered momentum to ban plastic straws!
Caroline is only too aware of plastic waste in all our lives, at home and onboard: “It’s saddening how much packaging everything has - air freighted goods arriving on superyachts are wrapped in excessive styrofoam or bubble wrap ” she comments, as are so much of our provisions.
Caroline adds “It is so inspiring to see so many people doing their bit to try to clean up our beautiful planet. It has been really noticeable this year alone that people are waking up to the huge task of taking responsibility for the environment that we enjoy. The combination of onboard technology making strides in keeping superyachts 'cleaner' on all levels, owners and crew awareness of how they can help on a daily basis with sustainability, to the efforts of communities in superyacht destinations really coming together now to face the formidable tasks we are challenged with is uplifting - every small step makes a difference!"