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Secret Atlas's Commitment to Sustainable Travel in Polar Regions

Secret Atlas’s Commitment to Sustainable Travel in Polar Regions

Michele D´Agostino image

The team at Secret Atlas is passionate and committed to sustainable travel and preserving the remote regions of our planet. Through our voyages, our goal is to bring people closer to nature whilst raising awareness about climate change and the threats that face the Arctic.

The Arctic is a vital region of the world, the sea ice reflecting the sun’s rays to help regulate the earth’s temperature and support human and animal life. It’s a hugely important habitat for rare wildlife, including the polar bear, and is home to around 4 million people. But it is under threat from global warming, with sea ice melting and native animals struggling to survive. We should all be concerned about this and should all be taking action to stop this. You can read more about this here.

Kinfish Secret Atlas

A small expedition vessel carrying 12 guests has a lower footprint than a large expedition cruise ship carrying 350 passengers.

Small vessel, small footprint

We believe that people who come here and witness its beauty are more likely to make changes to help protect it. We wanted to find a more sustainable way to help people experience the natural beauty of the Arctic without disturbing the landscape or wildlife which lives there – and that is exactly what we have done. Smaller vessels = a smaller footprint. Our vessels carry just 12 people leading to a much more intimate experience and lower impact way to experience this precious part of the world.

As a member of AECO (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators), we follow strict guidelines to minimise the impact of our voyages on the environment and wildlife. AECO’s guidelines, aim to: “Ensure that expedition cruises and tourism in the Arctic are carried out with the utmost consideration for the vulnerable, natural environment, local cultures and cultural remains, as well as the challenging safety hazards at sea and on land.”

What’s more, we carbon offset all of our trips by partnering with Greenland Trees to fund tree planting in Southern Greenland. But we know that sustainability is about more than carbon offsetting. It relates to many factors – environmental and economical.

We believe that people who come here and witness its beauty are more likely to make changes to help protect it and that is the core of sustainable travel.

The importance of tourism in Svalbard

Tourism is one of three industries in Svalbard (the others being mining and research) and is now the main source of jobs for local people, facilitating the long-term sustainability of Longyearbyen as a settlement.

Svalbard relies on tourists and we believe it is our duty to ensure that the tourism we’re responsible for in the Arctic is sustainable – low impact travel that connects people with nature and makes a positive contribution to the region and the world.

Income raised from tourism helps fund some of the essential conservation work carried out across the archipelago and plays an important role in raising awareness of the remote region. Our guests take what they’ve learnt and seen back home to share with their communities and inspire action globally to protect this special region.

A polar bear in Svalbard as photographed by Chase Teron. Polar Bears are one of the many species listed as vulnerable in the Arctic due to changes in the climate.

10 steps we take to make Secret Atlas a sustainable travel company

1. Leave no trace

Where we do undertake shore landings, we leave no trace. This is much easier to do in a small expedition vessel than the larger cruise ships with less impact on landing sites and the coastal seas. We make sure we take everything back on the vessel – including remnants of campfires. We crush our litter and recycling and take it with us. We leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photographs and memories.

2. Follow AECO and WWF guidelines

Our expeditions are led by experienced guides, extremely knowledgeable about the local area and able to speak Norwegian and English. They have the right mix of knowledge and experience to be able to guide us safely around the archipelago while adhering to all the rules put in place to protect visitors, wildlife and the environment. We keep on top of the latest developments to ensure we’re always up-to-date with any changes to these. You can read the full AECO guidelines here.

3. Carbon offsetting

Working with our tree planting partner, Greenland Trees, we carbon offset all of our micro cruises by funding tree planting in the Arctic (not Svalbard, as its climate cannot sustain trees!). This leads to our expeditions being carbon neutral. We also encourage all of our guests to do the same with their flights to Norway, either using the airline’s own scheme or via our partnership with Greenland Trees.

5. The Passenger Pledge

As part of our commitment to sustainable travel, we ask guests to sign a Passenger Pledge which outlines their commitment to sharing what they’ve learnt during their visit to the Arctic with their community back home and taking action to help the fight against Climate Change. This includes things such as replacing one car journey a week with walking, cycling or public transport; or committing to stop buying single-use plastic bottles of water and switch to reusable drinking vessels.

6. Water efficiency

Climate change manifests itself through changes in the water cycle. We’ve witnessed this first-hand in the Arctic with the melting of ice caps. A lot of energy is used in the water supply system and water efficiency has a huge part to play tackling climate change. On all of our trips, we try not to wastewater. The water systems on our vessels are checked and maintained regularly to ensure no leaks and we re-use water where possible. More on water efficiency and climate change here.

7. Limit plastic waste

Conscious of the ever-increasing problem of plastics in the ocean, we try to find alternatives to single-use plastics wherever possible. We favour recyclable and biodegradable materials. With our packing lists, we encourage people to bring more sustainable items such as wooden toothbrushes and reusable cups. Where possible, we try to buy equipment made from recycled materials and urge others to do the same. More on the fight against plastic waste, here.

8. Good relations with the local community

Sustainable travel is also about people. We have ongoing relationships with local people, businesses and organisations working in conservation in the Arctic. We follow what’s happening on Svalbard closely and share updates on our communication channels and developing partnerships if appropriate. We want to support the local economy and encourage our guests to do the same, buying local souvenirs, staying locally before or after their micro cruise and contributing to charities which carry out vital work in the Arctic. You can learn more about the community on Svalbard via the Visit Svalbard here.

9. Carefully planned trips

While weather conditions mean that our expeditions itineraries are subject to change, we work with experienced guides to pre-plan the trips so that we do not infringe on areas with nesting birds, or land on shores where there have been recent reports of polar bear activity. When it comes to wildlife watching, we are respectful of the fact these are wild animals and follow AECO guidance around wildlife watching to ensure we do not disturb animals in their habitats. You can read more about the guidelines here.

10. Investment in the future

To avoid dangerous climate change we need to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C as laid out in the Paris Agreement.

Here at Secret Atlas, we see the future as a decarbonised economy and all tourism companies will have a vital role to play in reducing their emissions. Whilst Carbon offsetting through tree planting is better than doing nothing we feel the need to do a lot more than this. It is our aim to progress beyond fossil fuels as quickly as possible and for this reason, we are committed to investing to be at the forefront of new green technologies as they become available.

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