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Jean-Michel Cousteau on the Santa Barbara coast

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Embracing Santa Barbara's Natural Beauty

Jean-Michel Cousteau brings his interactive environmental education program, Ambassadors of the Environment, to Santa Barbara.

When was the last time you looked in wonder at the intricate architecture of a leaf, let your fingers explore the strange texture of a bit of kelp washed ashore, or happened upon an owl swooping for prey on its nightly hunt?

Your answer may lie way back in the archives of your childhood. The Ritz-Carlton is working not only to change that but also to ensure that younger generations, who can probably name more Snapchat filters than types of flora and fauna, likewise experience nature in a meaningful, conscientious way. In conjunction with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program — based on the four principles that everything is connected, everything runs on energy, there is no waste in nature, and biodiversity is good. 

The latest property to benefit from this partnership is rather close to home for Cousteau, whose marine conservation organization, Ocean Futures Society, is headquartered in Santa Barbara. “I am very excited to have our newest Ambassadors program here at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara in my backyard,” says Cousteau. “This region is among the richest and most interesting in the world, with amazing natural wonders. With our great team of naturalists, I am certain we will be able to give guests an amazing experience that both enriches and educates them.”

Here, guests of all ages can explore the natural environment of California’s Gaviota Coast under the tutelage of professionals trained by Cousteau and his chief scientist, Richard Murphy, Ph.D. Guests can engage in guided nature walks on land and on sand, both in daytime and at night. These special explorations, however, are just one facet of the diverse and engaging program. “There’s an entire menu of activities,” says Murphy.

Educational, interactive programs for both children and young adults include “CSI: Coastal Scene Investigator,” in which participants learn to solve a mystery by analyzing water samples; “Cosmic Adventures,” where children are taught to identify celestial bodies; and “Shark,” which focuses on the various species of this captivating creature that inhabit the area’s ocean depths.

During one such program, Sara Welsh, a supervisor within the Cousteau organization, explains why the beaches at Bacara are not perfectly manicured. “In Santa Barbara, we have very natural beaches,” she says. “We don’t groom them, we don’t make sure they’re perfect for umbrellas and lawn chairs, so you’ll notice all along the beach we have the dead kelp, which continues to enrich the ecosystem after it dies. If we were going to remove those little items, then we would really lose a lot of aspects of our ecosystem that maybe we’re not counting on losing. We’re very committed to protecting the natural environment.”

That is to say, conservation is about more than beauty — it’s also about sustainability. “It’s time to manage every species like a business, and we cannot touch the capital,” Cousteau says. “[Instead], you live off the interest earned off the capital.” He points out that underwater forests supply ingredients for everything from moisturizer to ice cream. If we protect the kelp, he says, we can continue to build businesses around it. When the forests disappear, the businesses do, too.

Murphy says that through the program’s unique, eco-centric experiences, his team has an opportunity to reach not only the present-day decision makers who form Ritz-Carlton properties’ roster of guests but also the future movers and shakers who visit as children. “There are some really good studies which show that engaging kids before the age of 10 and giving them that sense of feeling a part of nature really empowers them to think of their own environmental footprint as they grow up,” adds Holly S. Lohuis, executive coordinator for Cousteau.

This, it seems, is to spark wonder in and ignite respect for the simplest and yet most precious of things: the natural environment. At the breathtaking Bacara property, Mother Nature’s extraordinary handiwork has made it an easy task.

"Conservation is about more than beauty — it’s also about sustainability."