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The ocean could do worse than have Jean-Michel Cousteau as its biggest ambassador. Cousteau, the son of pioneering conservationist Jacques, is a charming guy — he wins over politicians and travelers alike by forgoing pedantic behavior in favor of experiential lessons that underscore the major principles of Ocean Futures Society, his nonprofit, and Ambassadors of the Environment, his adventure program with select Ritz-Carlton (RC) properties.
Ambassadors of the Environment recently debuted at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara in Goleta, Calif., which features a superlative natural landscape in addition to a well-trained team of naturalists who know how to engage kids — as well as curious adults — and encourage them to think about how everything is connected.
RC Bacara has an extra bonus: Santa Barbara happens to be Cousteau’s home of 27 years — “a time when there was no freeway,” he said, a little wistfully. He discovered the city when filming the Channel Islands, and he’s excited to share what he loves most about the islands and the Gaviota Coast — namely its kelp forests, tide-pool treasures and connections to its former inhabitants, the Chumash people.
“A lot of this coastline is well-preserved and, thanks to regulations, it’s still in good shape,” Cousteau said. “We can improve it, but that’s the objective of the Ambassadors program: People get educated and ask, ‘What can I do?’”
On a recent visit to RC Bacara, I tried out its short EcoHike offering, walking along the hotel’s footpath to uncover former sacred lands and great views, and then down to the beach that juts up against the property. There, Sara Welsh, a marine biologist and the program supervisor, regaled us with stories of finding shark eggs and turning kids into nature whizzes. Whipped by the wind, we combed through strands of kelp and uncovered a frilly shell belonging to a wavy-top turban snail and rocks pockmarked by refuge-seeking boring clams — the scavenger hunt doubled as a lesson on how everything is connected.
Welsh’s infectious love of nature directly mirrors that of Cousteau’s. During a chat at Ocean Futures Society, he spoke effusively about how children are our future decision-makers and shrugged off setbacks (“In politics, their job is so short-term,” he said). Instead, he radiated joy when reminiscing about a time his father pushed him overboard with a tank on his back. He plans to scuba dive until he’s 107 — around the world and, like guests of RC Bacara, in the Channel Islands.
“When the kelp forests are at their best, and you dive there, you’re like a bird in Sequoia Park,” he said. “It’s absolutely fascinating. You become just like a kid.”
The DetailsThe Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbarawww.ritzcarlton.com