Eco-initiatives in the Caribbean
Hotels around the globe are making significant efforts to “go green.’’ Though many Caribbean resorts have been slow to embrace the green movement, the majority of them have spent the last few years playing catch-up. Whether it’s relying on local farmers and fishermen for produce, creating awareness about marine ecology, using earth-friendly construction materials, or offering travelers “give-back’’ initiatives, it’s clear the islands are engaged in some impressive environmental activity. Here is a look at programs aimed at maintaining and protecting Caribbean landscapes.
With more conscientious chefs putting down roots, the reliance on local farms has blossomed. Eric Ripert’s Blue at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman (Seven Mile Beach, 345-943-9000, www.ritz carlton.com) carries a “fish fund’’ to patronize local fishermen and farmers, and offers 20 seats at “Lunch in the Kitchen,’’ where the chef de cuisine shares the highlights of the catch of the day. Puerto Rico’s St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort (State Road 187, Río Grande, 787-809-8000, www.stregisbahiabeach.com), home to Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Fern, maintains an extensive garden with basil, peppers, rosemary, cilantro, and marjoram. At New York-favorite Fatty Crab’s new St. John outpost (18-11A Enighed, Cruz Bay, St. John, 340-775-9951, www.fattycrab.com), dishes are based on locally available produce, almost exclusively sourced from Coral Bay Organic Gardens, which grows wholesale organic produce and distributes it around the Virgin Islands.
And it’s not just about top chefs’ initiatives. Resorts such as Hermitage Bay in Antigua (St. John’s, Antigua, West Indies, 268-562-5500, www.hermitagebay.com) have created on-site organic gardens, introduced complimentary cooking classes, garden and local farm tours, and offered a garden-inspired spa menu to reduce their carbon footprint. At the Grace Bay Club in Turks & Caicos (1 Grace Bay Circle Road, Providenciales, 649-946-5050, www.gracebayclub.com), day trips to Turks & Caicos Conch Farm teach guests about the mollusk, while cooking classes school students in the traditional method of preparing conch. In the US Virgin Islands, St. Croix boasts the only USDA-certified organic farm in the Caribbean - Ridge to Reef Farm (www.visfi.org) - offering training courses centered around sustainability. They also have eco-lodges that can be rented to travelers looking to do a farm stay. Caneel Bay in St. John’s (Salomon Bay Road, 340-776-6111, www.caneelbay.com), set on 170 acres in Virgin Islands National Park, has an on-site beekeeper harvesting honey through the Virgin Fresh Beekeeping Project. The honey is used in the resort’s cuisine, cocktails, and spa treatments.
In a cross between locavorism and marine ecology, Kamalame Cay in the Bahamas (Stanyard Creek, Andros, 800-790 7971, www.kamalame.com) is teaming with the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation in the ongoing fight against the lionfish, an invasive predator that poses a severe threat to native reef fish. Showcasing its versatility as a protein, dishes on Kamalame’s menu range from lionfish ceviche to lionfish ravioli. A five-course tasting menu launches in January.
While such organizations as Marine Park Foundation in Aruba are also trying to eradicate lionfish, Four Seasons Resort, Nevis (Pinney’s Beach, Charlestown, West Indies, 869-469-1111, www.fourseasons.com/nevis) has partnered with the Sea Turtle Conservancy (www.conserveturtles.org) to save endangered sea turtles. The Kids for All Seasons program brings children in on the action. Upon returning home they can track their new friends online thanks to GPS tagging. St. Lucia has a similar program but is going one step further with the Debaras Turtle Watch (www.heritagetoursstlucia.org), an overnight adventure for nature lovers who want to make a difference. Tour participants patrol the beach in shifts and when a turtle is spotted, the team gathers for measuring and tagging.
St. Martin’s first national marine park, the Man of War Shoal Marine Park, opened last year as a first step in preserving Proselyte Reef, the island’s most important underwater habitat. Nearby, St. Thomas’s Coral World Ocean Park (www.coralworldvi.com) has a successful record assisting injured turtles and a seahorse program that releases baby seahorses back into the ocean.
On land, the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, which boasts a green Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed golf course, is also home to the first and only gold-certified Audubon Signature Sanctuary in the Caribbean. Nestled between the El Yunque rain forest and the tranquil waters of the Espíritu Santo River, the resort employs a “green team’’ headed by ecologist Marcela Cañón, two agronomists, and a landscape architect who cultivate and protect 51 species of birds, including the endangered Puerto Rican parrot, sea turtles, fish, iguanas, and plants like Maria trees, mangroves, and golden leather ferns.
It’s not only what you build, but also how you build it. Helping to support Bonaire’s sustainable tourism, Sonrisa Rooms & Apartments (Kaya Finlandia, Kralendijk, 599-717-6633, www.sonrisabonaire.com) features a pool filled with saltwater and solar panels to heat it. On St. Lucia, with many open-air accommodations that shrug off air conditioning, Ladera (Soufrière, West Indies, 758-459-6600, www.ladera.com) is Green Globe 21 certified, an internationally recognized achievement in green management, while Jalousie Plantation’s (Val des Pitons, Forbidden Beach, La Baie de Silence, Soufriere, West Indies, 758-456-8000, www.jalousieplantation.com) new spa was built entirely from indigenous woods.
In the US Virgin Islands, St. John continues to lead the charge, with the Estate Concordia Preserve (Cruz Bay, 800-392-9004, www.maho.org/estate.cfm) recently earning the Four-Star Tropical Green Building Certification for newly constructed eco-studios featuring sustainable materials, and the brand-new Eco Serendib Luxury Villas (Rendezvous Bay, 215-830-8300, www.ecoserendib.com) with their organic garden, eco-friendly ceiling and floorboards, and 69 solar panels for power. Kamalame Cay in the Bahamas just re-outfitted its buildings with solar panels, and uses LED bulbs on all road lighting in the resort, while Jamaica’s GoldenEye (Island Outpost, Oracabessa, 800-688-7678, www.goldeneye.com), novelist Ian Fleming’s onetime home, offers guests a $20 credit for turning off their air conditioning while on-island.
All properties might take cues from the Riviera Maya’s Rosewood Mayakoba (Carretera Federal Cancún, Playa del Carmen, 52-984-873-4900, www.mayakoba.com) in Mexico, recently honored with a trifecta of awards: the Ulysses Prize for responsible tourism development by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the Sustainable Standard Setter Award by the Rainforest Alliance, and a Virtuoso “Best of the Best’’ Hotel Award for “most socially responsible.’’
Through Feb. 15, Westin St. John Resort & Villas (www.westinresortstjohn.com) is offering a $100 resort credit and transfers for guests with a volunteering urge. Along with Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park, visitors can help maintain trails and ruins, and remove debris from beaches and coastlines.
Through April 30, The Landings St. Lucia (landings.rockresorts.com) is offering a “Give and Getaway Package,’’ the highlight being an opportunity to work a half day alongside St. Lucians either harvesting fruits and vegetables or helping to fish farm-raised tilapia and shrimp. The package includes deluxe accommodations, daily breakfast, a local farm excursion, and transportation. Through April 9, the “Experience Aruba’’ Green Vacation Package at Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts (www.bucuti.com) offers the environmentally conscious the opportunity to see native wildlife and indigenous plant life, sample traditional cuisine, and participate in island-wide beach cleanups. Rates begin at $2,397 per couple (5 nights) and include a guided hike in Arikok National Park.
The “Go Green With ME Cancún’’ package (www.me-cancun.com) in Mexico’s Caribbean capital includes an organic dinner on the beach with purchase of a day trip to eco-friendly Xelha Park and planting of a tree at the ME Garden at Xelha. A 50-minute massage for two at organic Yhi Spa is included. Four-night package begins at $1,589.
Want to give back like a celebrity? It’s possible at Jamaica’s GoldenEye Hotel and Resort (www.goldeneye.com). Here, the “Celebritrees’’ program has received endorsement from such marquee names as Michael Caine, Kate Moss, Johnny Depp, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. All have planted trees following a tradition started by Anthony Eden, Britain’s prime minister in the 1950s. Guests can add their name to the list with a $1,000 donation to the Oracabessa Foundation (oracabessafoundation.org), a charity that educates and encourages sustainable development in the community.