"Good morning, Mr. Cousteau" are words I never thought I would physically speak aloud. Especially not in Grand Cayman while boarding a boat with legendary son of Jacques Cousteau himself. I ventured down to the Grand Cayman as a guest of the Ritz Carton to join Mr. Jean-Michel Cousteau on an educational tour of the reefs surrounding the islands. Mr. Cousteau created a fantastic program with the Ritz Carlton called the Ambassadors of the Environment. This program aims to connect people of all ages with their environment and explore the cultural traditions and ecosystems that exist around us and under the sea. As a thalassophile and a watery Cancer, this was an absolute dream opportunity and one I'm so eager to share with you all.
There's an interesting culturally influenced fear of the ocean. Blame movies like Jaws for instilling that misunderstanding about the element that makes up most of our planet. It truly was, and still is to some degree, the last frontier of exploration and understanding. I grew up loving the sea but wearing Aquasocks every time I went in for fear of stepping on something unknown. We tend to fear the things we don't understand. As a species this had led us to make some grave mistakes with our oceans. If we overfish or introduce a new species to a new area, we mess with the diversity and in turn ruin stability.
So what can we learn? After a few days of rubbing elbows with Mr. Cousteau, joining him for dinners, excursions, film screenings and speeches, I left completely inspired by his commitment both to family legacy and the future of our oceans. Here's what I'd like to pass on to you.
What if we protected our oceans like we do our land? I love exploring our National Parks. We are so lucky to have them and continually fight for their boundaries but only 3% of our oceans are protected (!). After screening one of Jean-Michel's films First Lady Laura Bush made a push to protect an area around Hawaii as a National Park. Obama then multiplied that by four.
Safer Sunscreen for us and the Reefs
This is a really big deal and became a big topic of conversation over lunch. Toxic ingredients in sunscreens are killing our oceans. Oxybenzone and Octinoxate are the main culprits, disrupting the growth of coral reefs leading to bleaching. It has also been found to be a hormone disrupter in humans. Think about that for a second. If it's killing a living thing, it is most likely slowly killing us. It scores an 8 on the Environmental Working Group's toxicity scale. Yikes! They told me to:
- Use a mineral sunscreen with zinc or titanium as ingredients (check out BeautyCounter, Juice Beauty and Babo Botanicals)
- Wear protective layers instead. A rash guard or dive suit shields the rays naturally and protect us from things like jellyfish etc. (I love Cover Swimwear, Flagpole rash guards and Salt Gypsy)
Ok, who knew Grand Cayman also has bioluminescence and gorgeous mangroves? The biodiversity here is stunning. Get out on a kayak, snorkel, or grab a paddle board. The more we stay connected to nature, the more balance we find within ourselves. 7 Mile Beach is absolutely a stunning way to experience Grand Cayman and the Ritz Carlton has prime real estate here, but on the back side of the resort is a boat and kayak launch to explore the mangroves. If you go with a guide from the Ambassador program they will point out all kinds of things like starfish and sea lettuce.
Change Happens One Heartbeat at a Time
These are words Jean-Michel echoes over and over again. The more familiar we get with the ocean the better we understand it. Better yet, if we can educate the youngsters then we have a better chance of creating change.
- Plan meaningful stays, build sustainable futures. The program is not only at the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman (they have amazing facilities for kids here though!). Their properties in Maui, St. Thomas and Dorado in Puerto Rico also share this program and offer so many activities. Nothing hurts me more to see is when people go to these amazing places and be blind to understanding another culture or aspect of life that is different than their own. Jean-Michel Cousteau works a non-profit called Ocean Futures and has given so much to education. Take advantage of it if you can!
Thank you, Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman for an amazing experience and for helping me celebrate my birthday as well on this trip!