Ritz-Carlton Bacara General Manager Roberto Van Geenen with Ocean Futures Society Chair and President Jean-Michel Cousteau

On November 12, the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara, in partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau and his Ocean Futures Society, launched its Ambassadors of the Environment Program, which is destined to be a hit with both hotel guests and the public, adults and children. Cousteau-trained naturalists lead several activities each week that explore our area’s diverse ecosystems. Along the way, they explain how we can live more environmentally sustainable lives.

For the overnight launch event, media and a few hotel guests experienced this fascinating new program and enjoyed the luxury and pampered service typical of Ritz-Carlton properties. At the welcoming reception in the Ambassadors of the Environment Center in the hotel’s main building, General Manager Roberto van Geenen greeted us and shared his excitement for the program, which allows hotel guests and members of the local community to have fun, learn, and look after the planet all at the same time.

Ocean Futures Society Director of Science and Education Richard Murphy related how he has been working around the world with Cousteau for 50 years as he explores, asks questions, and shares through film what has been learned. According to Murphy, that desire to inform is at the core of this program. They have created engaging experiences in nature that, according to Murphy, will touch both the heart and the head.

The program leader, Sara Welsh, radiates warmth and enthusiasm and is a trove of knowledge about our local ecosystem. On our coastal hike and beach walk, she lights up when talking about the great horned owl her tour group saw on a recent night hike and the myriad objects she picks up and explains as we walk in the intertidal zone. With a degree in environmental science, Welsh has worked as a coral biologist in the Maldives, as a dive master in Mexico, and as the manager of the Ritz-Carlton’s Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico Ambassadors of the Environment Program. She and her team of Cousteau-trained naturalists could make anything interesting and fun, but give them the Ritz-Carlton’s spectacular natural environment and you’ve got an extraordinary program.

Cousteau and Murphy accompanied us on our hike, sharing interesting insights along the way. Thanks to Murphy and Welsh quick sifting of wet sand, we got to see sand crabs up close while Murphy told us all about these creatures. At a scenic coastal bluff, we got to watch for whales and dolphins, of which there are frequent sightings.

We regrouped a bit later for a sunset cocktail reception on the bluff outside Angel Oak, followed by dinner under the stars. A delicious and bounteous buffet of sustainably grown and harvested dishes showcased how the Ritz-Carlton has taken the Bacara up a couple of notches in the culinary sphere.

After dinner, Cousteau shared how he has participated in educational programs around the world, but never in such a special place as this and related how he felt like a kid on the hike that afternoon. He lamented the dangers posed to the environment today and emphasized the importance of education programs like this. Cousteau reflected on how his father had always told him that people protect what they love, so it has been Jean-Michel’s mission to understand the world and help others understand it so they too can help protect it. Afterward, through a partnership with the Museum of Natural History’s Astronomical Unit, guests got to view Saturn and its rings and other wonders of the night sky.

The Ambassadors of the Environment Program offers activities for youth of various ages and adults, including day and night hikes and beach walks where participants learn, among many other things, about adaptations enabling plants and animals to survive and how the Chumash lived for thousands of years. The youth programs include scavenger hunts and other challenge-based activities. In the planning stages are kayak trips off Refugio State Beach and the Channel Islands, whale watching trips, and hikes in the surrounding area.

The newly renovated 358-room hotel has a 42,000-square-foot luxury spa and six culinary venues. The Ritz-Carlton wasted no time in bringing the property up to its standards. Van Geenen related how when he received the keys at midnight on September 27, 2017, 70 trainers and some outside help went to work in the night cleaning, painting, and polishing. When the Ladies and Gentlemen (as staff are called) appeared for the 6 a.m. shift, they were greeted by a “wall of applause” by about 140 trainers and managers. Staff then participated in orientation and a 10-day intensive training on the company’s philosophy and service standards. These high standards were abundantly evident during our stay. With the Ambassadors of the Environment Program, the hotel has become even more enticing.

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The naturalist team: Hunter Godfrey, Sara Welsh (Program Supervisor), and Tori Kampmann
Ocean Futures Society (OFS) Director of Science and Education Richard Murphy and OFS Field Producer Holly Lohuis
Gail Arnold
Ritz-Carlton Bacara (RCB) Executive Sous Chef Diogo Vital, RCB Director of Sales & Marketing Michael Aylmer, and RCB Executive Chef Umit Kaygusuz
Gail Arnold
Hunter Godfrey explains how they teach kids to make solar candles.
Ocean Futures Society Director of Science and Education Robert Murphy catches and talks about sand crabs.
Gail Arnold
Guests enjoy dinner on the bluff.
Gail Arnold
A standard hotel room viewed from the bathroom
A standard hotel room.
Gail Arnold
Ritz-Carlton Bacara General Manager Roberto Van Geenen with Ocean Futures Society Chair and President Jean-Michel Cousteau


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