Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment programmes are popular with young eco-adventurers
One rarely turns down a trip to The Ritz-Carlton, and my eldest daughter is no exception.
But instead of taking high tea in a posh frock, she donned swimmies and snorkelling gear to document the delights of the deep, courtesy of the hotel’s Ambassadors of the Environment programme.
Ayanda, her invited guest Paris and eight other youngsters got up close to local marine life to ‘take photographs and leave only bubbles’ during an afternoon exploring the reef off Seven Mile Beach.
The programme’s Underwater Photography Snorkel session is for strong swimmers aged eight plus. Designed for The Ritz-Carlton by award-winning marine biologist Jean Michel Cousteau, the three-hour activity teaches youngsters how to take pictures using lightweight digital cameras in underwater housings and later edit onto CD.
On meeting up at the Ambassadors Cayman-style Heritage House, participants were introduced to their Cousteau-trained naturalists.
The life sciences graduates, trained in First Aid, proved to be inspirational instructors. My daughter liked the fact that Courtney and Karen were young, approachable and keen on making the whole experience enjoyable as well as informative. ‘They taught us a lot of really interesting things about sea creatures and made everything fun to learn,’ she later said.
The activity, tailor made to introduce youngsters to the wonders of Cayman’s natural environment, keeps groups small at no more than 10 participants. This ratio allows a high level of instruction and supervision.
According to the hotel’s Communications Director, Melissa Ladley, this attention to detail is only part of the programme’s success.
‘Underwater Photography is one of our most popular Ambassadors programmes. Nowadays, kids are so adept with technology and love learning how to use the underwater cameras to capture their underwater adventure.’
Issued with life jackets and snorkelling gear, the children were paired up to foster team work. And, once briefed on how to operate the cameras they were primed and raring to go.
A short walk across the hotel’s overpass gallery and the budding eco-adventurers were making their way across Seven Mile Beach. Heading west, past the loungers, a slight breeze on their backs, they got a few insider tips on putting on their snorkelling gear: like moonwalk backwards into the sea to avoid falling over and sitting on a flipper while putting on the other to stop it from floating away.
Then, with one naturalist snorkelling alongside them and a colleague supervising from a kayak, they set off in close formation for the snorkel out to the reef.
Snorkelling in around 10 feet of water, once over the reef the fun really began.
With near enough superb year round visibility, photographing Cayman’s sea critters is always a rewarding experience.
Squirrel fish, Sergeant Majors and Parrot fish were everywhere, darting among the coral heads at barely an arms length away. The ever changing parade of anemones, coral and fish was awe inspiring and a prompted a flurry of photos and excitement from the group.
From the moment of their first encounter with the marine life the ocean became a living classroom with a biodiversity lesson around every outcrop of Elkhorn and Brain coral.
Entranced by the diversity and colour of marine life, Ayanda thoroughly enjoyed putting her newly-acquired photography skills to the test.
‘It was a bit tricky as the fishes are moving around… my favourite bit was seeing Blue Tangs shoaling,’ she said.
This was her first exposure to underwater photography and it will not be her last.
Taking turns to operate the camera, their hour-long ocean adventure whizzed by.
The editing process
On the way back, the snorkelers took turns being pulled along on the back of the kayak returning to shore happy and eager to start the editing process.
‘There was so much to see so taking pictures will help me remember how colourful the fishes were and all the different types we saw,’ said 10-year-old James from Texas. His 9-year-old brother Aiden was equally impressed by their underwater experience.
Ten-year-old Adrinna from Delaware took some of the best pictures of the afternoon and couldn’t wait to get back to school after the holidays to show her classmates.
‘It was swimming in an aquarium,’ she added.
Animated by their snorkelling trip and all the sea critters they’d seen, the children were eager to get back to the Ambassadors Heritage House to download their images.
Offered a healthy snack back at base, they illustrated the front of their CDs for that personalised look and were taught to edit on iMac computers.
Most opted to delete unwanted pictures before enhancing and cropping the best ones. The icing on the cake was choosing a track to accompany their personalised slideshow: a perfect memento of their Caribbean underwater adventure.
The entire group, judging from their questions, expressions and feedback found the session an amazing experience.
For junior adventurers, shutterbugs and techies, the Ambassadors Underwater Photography Snorkel programme was a snap and gave them recorded memories that will last a lifetime.
The Ritz-Carlton Ambassadors of the Environment programmes by Jean-Michel Cousteau run year round except for September. Each has an ecological theme and principles which are reflected in the outings, experiments and art activities.
To find out more about the 35 eco-adventures, contact the hotel on 815-6120 or log onto http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/GrandCayman/Childrens/Default.htm
Ambassadors also runs a weekly summer camp for kids ages eight to 12 from 7 July to 29 August. Ambassador Camp will include Underwater Photography in each week’s programming. Activities include: kayaking, rock climbing, beach exploration, tennis lessons with pros and team building activities with their highly trained naturalists. .