The next generation of polar vessels and voyaging
Having recently returned from a Spitsbergen voyage aboard one of the new generation of polar ‘eco ships’ – the Hondius – travel specialist, Charlotte, explains why responsible travel lies at the heart of our small ship cruises.
Cruising through the Arctic pack ice after just reaching 80 degrees north was the moment when I really felt like I was in the Arctic. The peaceful, yet eerie silence was intermittently disturbed by the roaring, cracking sound of the ship gently breaking through the sea ice. We were halfway through our 10-day polar voyage, a trip that had already taken us to a number of glaciers and provided numerous wildlife sightings, including 3 different whale species, seals, arctic fox and of course, polar bears. Just when we thought the day couldn’t get any better, an announcement was made over the loudspeaker, another polar bear mother and cub were up ahead of us. Mother Nature was really spoiling us!
I was travelling on the new 174-passenger M/V Hondius – the first registered Polar Class 6 vessel with an ice-strengthened hull specifically designed for voyages in the extreme conditions of the High Arctic. It also doesn’t compromise on onboard comforts.
The Hondius was a great hub, from where we were able to jump into zodiac boats for shore landings and take part in hikes with our incredibly knowledgeable guides, who would take us closer to the spectacular scenery and wildlife (whilst keeping a respectful and safe distance of course).
I was interested to learn before my trip that the Hondius exceeds all the latest green requirements of the Polar Code and uses state-of-the-art power management systems that keep fuel consumption low and CO2 levels minimal. The plight of the Arctic has been well publicised in recent years and the latest statistics suggest that the Arctic ice could fully recede by 2050, which will undoubtedly affect polar bear numbers and that of other wildlife too. There is some controversy regarding voyages such as the one I was undertaking and, with multiple new ships scheduled to arrive onto the polar market over the next couple of years, the numbers of tourists to the area will naturally increase too. Whilst all polar tour operators Discover the World feature are environmentally aware and are building new ships that are sustainable, I had to wonder; were there only negative environmental consequences to such voyages?
I was pondering this thought whilst standing out on deck, staring at the beautiful polar bears against a majestic back drop of snow and ice. At that moment, a famous quote from David Attenborough popped into my mind, “No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”
Indeed, people need to feel an emotional connection to something in order to feel a need to protect it. I’ve returned to the UK feeling incredibly privileged to have witnessed such incredible sights in the Arctic and have a heightened sense of awareness as to what role I can play in protecting the environment, no matter how small. Without trips such as these, very few people would be able to experience these animals and this unique environment. The more attention and accessibility there is, the more likely people will become emotionally invested in ensuring the survival of these creatures and that of their very beautiful, very important surroundings.