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Exploration and ecology
Tristan Rutherford
17th September 2020

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Exploration and ecology

Francesco Galli Zugaro started his career in private equity. Now his business is pioneering exploration. The owner of four expedition ships understands the importance of preserving both profits and workplace. “Corporate responsibility used to be something companies did on the side,” he explains. “Now expedition guests expect their fee to be channeled into local communities - and want to experience their positive impact in real life.”

Galli Zugaro cites an example. “In the Upper Amazon illegal fishermen used to poach massive pirarucu.” The Amazon’s largest fish can grow to 2.5m (8ft 2in) and top 100kg (220lb), a similar size and weight to a bull shark. “In one Peruvian lagoon there were just 500 left,” continues Zugaro. “As the poachers needed money we sponsored them to become sustainable fishermen instead. They now supply the best restaurants in Lima, while stocks inside the lagoon are 10,000 strong.”

Each year Galli Zugaro serves a ton of sustainable pirarucu fillets on his two Amazon explorer yachts, Aria Amazon and Aqua Nera. The taste is similar to cod. Although the yachts’ consultant chef, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino of Lima restaurant Malabar - which ranks among San Pellegrino' s World’s Best Restaurants - serves it with cocona limes and coca leaf cookies.

Zugaro’s four yachts embody four sustainability goals: wildlife conservation, community engagement, waste management and habitat protection. All offer all- inclusive service, high capacity charters and flexible cruise durations - while remaining the sole six-star vessel in each final frontier destination. Naturally, all can be chartered through Camper & Nicholsons.

Perhaps the most impressive piece of maritime recycling is in Indonesia. In 2019 Galli Zugaro launched Aqua Blu, formerly the British scientific vessel HMS Beagle.
She has an exclusive remit to explore the Spice Islands, Raja Ampat and the Komodo National Park on 7- and 12-day itineraries. The refitted yacht has three fast tenders to reach cetacean hotspots, as well as islands inhabited solely by sunbirds and macaques. Diving equipment and paddleboards allow guests to drift alongside whale sharks and hawksbill turtles. Motorised toys are scorned in a destination that holds the marine biodiversity record: 284 species during a single scuba dive.

“Experiential travel means getting involved,” says Zugaro. That’s why he has partnered with the Raja Ampat Manta Project. The programme allows guests aboard Aqua Blu to log oceanic manta rays, which can attain wingspans of 7m (23ft), using their smartphones. The resulting database has already been used to achieve a nationwide no-catch, after case studies showed government officials that the average giant manta yields €1.9m in ecotourism receipts.

Sustainability can be a fine line to tread, admits Zugaro. “It’s important not to objectify the individuals that we support.” Aqua Mekong, his 20-suite river explorer that charts a cultural odyssey through Cambodia and Vietnam, encourages schoolgirl literacy programmes along the Mekong River. “For $4 you can gift one of our education packs that contains a ruler, pen, eraser, pencil sharpener and hygiene kit. Or make a payment of your own to charity partner Room to Read.”

Guests can see the impact of previous donations during casual meetings with teachers and students onshore.

As on all Zugaro’s vessels, each day’s expeditions promise minimal impact on the Mekong River. Read kayaks, bicycles and low emission speed boats. Zero chemicals are used onboard, while 100% of water returned to the river is clean.

Conservation in remote areas has one distinct bonus. It’s that guests are likely to be the only individuals seeing that clouded leopard or Amazonian jaguar - or sampling that Michelin-standard locally-sourced cuisine. “Anyone can book a top Mediterrenean charter,” says Zugaro. Bragging rights on his yachts include ‘I went on an eco cruise up the Amazon’ and ‘I’m helping a scientific study aboard the former HMS Beagle’.

Even post-expedition drinks have an ecological slant. Carbon footprints have been slashed by partnering with Proof & Company, who export spirits in bulletproof 4.5l canisters. These metal ‘ecoTOTES’ - which can be filled with vodka, rum and other cocktail essentials - can be sanitised and reused on future expeditions. We’ll all raise a toast to that.