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At The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, it doesn’t take long for Jean-Michel Cousteau, a French explorer and environmentalist, to spy his nemesis inside the Heritage House, a traditional island cottage that holds the resort’s Ambassadors of the Environment educational program.
It’s a single-use plastic water bottle, and Cousteau greets it with a slight snarl and roll of the eyes.
“This morning, there was a 6-year-old girl who gave me a plastic bottle of water that was not finished,” Cousteau said. “She asked me to keep it. Maybe an hour later, I asked if she wanted it back and she said ‘no.’ Then, she showed me she had another one opened.”
When it comes to combating environmental challenges, Cousteau, the son of ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, manages to stay both on-message and upbeat, even when faced with situations like this.
For Cousteau, it’s a tricky balancing act.
“The good news is we reach a lot of young people, and they, in turn, educate their parents,” he said. “It’s amazing to see them go and say, ‘Mom, dad, you should do this, and you shouldn’t do that."
Eighty-year-old Cousteau began exploring the planet from a young age. At age 7, he began diving after being pushed overboard by his father while wearing the just-invented Aqualung. He also worked with Jacques on the television series, “Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” eventually striking out on his own as a filmmaker. Now, his most recent film credit is with the 2018 documentary “Secret Ocean 3-D."
“In his 73 years of diving, you can just imagine what he’s personally witnessed around the world,” said Holly S. Lohuis, marine biologist and executive coordinator for Cousteau. “In that short window of time, we’ve seen tremendous changes."
An offshoot of Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society, the Ambassadors of the Environment program is found at select Ritz-Carlton resorts, including The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua (Maui), and Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve (Puerto Rico), which is reopening in October. It will also debut at The Ritz-Carlton, Bacara in Santa Barbara, Calif., and at Zadun, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Los Cabos, Mexico, opening March 2019. It will also be at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, when the property reopens next summer.
In Grand Cayman, approximately three-hour sessions are targeting both children and adults and are priced at $95 per person. The program includes activities such as a night snorkel excursion, an underwater photography course and a mangrove tour in glass-bottom kayaks. Recently launched is The Glass-Bottomed Boat Expedition, which uses a curvaceous glass-bottom watercraft that looks like it came straight out of a James Bond epic.
Classroom time is kept to a minimum in favor of hands-on experiential activities. On the kayak excursion, we learned how reef fish are born and thrive in the mangroves where they’re safe from predators and how mangroves serve as a buffer to absorb much of the blunt force inflicted by storms.
In keeping with The Ritz-Carlton’s ethos, the tour finishes with iced coconuts: their tops sliced off and a straw plunged into the refreshing coconut water (it’s a paper straw, of course).
“Jean-Michel reminds me of my responsibility, about what I have to do as a hotel general manager,” said Marc Langevin, general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. “He gives me a hard time when he sees my plastic straws, so we started with paper straws. Now, he is after my plastic stirrers, too.”
For Cousteau, who seems equally at home roughing it amid the sea’s salty roil as in The Ritz-Carlton’s pampering embrace, the role of inspiring the next generation is never-ending.
“I look at the eyes of these young people, and I will never, ever give up because I want them to have the same privilege (to learn) that I had when I was a kid,” Cousteau said. “That’s what recharges my batteries every time I see young people.”
The DetailsThe Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman www.ritzcarlton.com