From his position on the bridge of a small cruise ship, Captain Antoniou Leontios witnessed the growing mountain of plastic-waste wash up on the world’s most beautiful beaches during one of our cruises in Bali, Indonesia
In Indonesia, where the problem was the worst he had seen in over 25 years sailing the high seas, the Master of the Variety Cruises’ vessel Panorama II decided enough was enough. Dropping anchor, he gathered crew members, filled as many bin bags as he could with rubbish and took it back to the ship. News spread, and the next time they stopped, eight passengers joined them to clear another beach. Now, not only does Captain Leontios organise regular beach cleanups on Panorama II, but the practice has spread to other ships in the Variety Cruises fleet, with crew and passengers collecting rubbish in Costa Rica, the Greek Islands and West Africa.
What compelled you to act?
In the first place it’s ugly – beaches should be beautiful places and looked after as a natural resource for people to enjoy. But I am very aware of all the issues that pollution and plastic create for wildlife – a beach without wildlife, or dead wildlife, is a very sad place. Sailing on a small vessel, we’re uniquely placed to get up close to beaches larger ships wouldn’t see. I couldn’t just sit and do nothing. I’ve always lived near the sea and from a young age I would clean up the local beaches in Greece with my parents. I was lucky to have this good example instilled in me, and it has become a habit. All this plastic is a man-made problem. We make the mess – we have to be the ones to clean it up.
Have you noticed an increase in plastic pollution?
It’s undeniable that the rubbish problem is getting worse, and in many areas there is no evidence of authorities taking action to clean up. Yet local people feel very protective towards their environment – in Indonesia village elders get angry when careless boats drop anchor too near the coral.
We are very active and involved with each community, and are welcomed because they know we act with caution. Twice, local people have come to help us clear the rubbish, which was wonderful. I’m so happy that Bali banned single use plastics this summer – the beaches are already looking cleaner.
Was it easy to get others to help?
Everyone has been really keen to help – it isn’t something the crew are told they have to do. Cruising is our livelihood and people want to see beautiful places.
My crew understands how important it is not to spoil the places we visit, so they are eager to Variety Cruises’ guests help Captain Antoniou Leontios with a beach clean-up help. It’s the same with our passengers. Variety Cruises’ style of small-ship, low impact cruising is appealing to people who are sensitive to environmental challenges, and so once they hear what we are doing they are keen to get involved.
What began as something the crew would do while passengers were sightseeing has become a feature of the week. My colleagues in other Variety Cruises’ crews feel like I do, and now they are doing the same and collecting rubbish in other parts of the world, from the Greek Islands to West Africa and Costa Rica.
Are you taking steps to eliminate single-use plastics on the ship?
Variety Cruises is very committed to sustainability. We incur a charge when we dispose of the rubbish we collect responsibly in local ports, but our President is very happy to pay it. And for over a year now we have been making efforts to reduce single use plastics on board. Guests are given refillable water bottles, and we have made investments in our fleet’s water purification systems so it’s safe to drink.
We have replaced plastic straws and glasses with sustainable and biodegradable alternatives, and have installed shampoo dispensers in order to eliminate the small plastic bottles offered in cabins.
Antoniou Leontios captains Variety Cruises’ Panorama II, a 50m, 45-passenger motor yacht with sailing itineraries in Indonesia. The line’s other small ships sail to the Adriatic, Greece, Cape Verde, Seychelles, Iceland, West Africa and more
(varietycruises.com (https://www.varietycruises.com/); 0208 324 3118).
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