The cruise ship Infinity has won Celebrity Cruises' environmental ship of the year award, said Don Habeger, director of industry relations for Royal Caribbean Cruises, the parent company of Celebrity Cruises.
This year was the first that Celebrity Cruises awarded the recognition for environmental responsibility. One of the company's nine ships, the Infinity, won because of its crew's adherence to the company's environmental compliance plan, company officials said.
"All of the ships go through a third-party inspection process for the environmental criteria," Habeger said.
The captain and other officers were given a $25,000 grant to distribute to environmental projects or charities of their choice.
After talking with tour operators and other members of the Alaska visitor industry, the crew chose to distribute the award to Discovery Southeast in Juneau, the Sitka Raptor Center, the community of Yakutat and the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Habeger said. Crew members were sailing and couldn't be reached for comment.
Discovery Southeast, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating residents of Southeast Alaska about its natural environment, asked Royal Caribbean for a donation earlier this year, but the request was denied, said Larry West, executive director of Discovery Southeast.
"This was a total surprise," he said.
Though Discovery Southeast doesn't interact directly with cruise lines or cruise ship passengers, many people who participate in the organization's educational programs become guides in Juneau's tourism industry, West said.
"We also are doing and have done in the past some natural-history training for guides of local tour operators, so there is at least that sort of peripheral connection," he said.
If the Infinity crew has a specific intent for the money, Discovery Southeast would defer to the ship's wishes, West said.
If not, the nonprofit organization likely will use the money to fund its nature-studies program, which brings hands-on lessons to Juneau schoolchildren.
The nature-studies program has an annual budget of about $60,000, half of which is raised by local parent-teacher organizations. The other half is raised in the community, West said.
Discovery Southeast has received money from cruise ship companies in the past, West said.
"We seek funding from a wide variety of sources," he said. "We are fortunate to get a nice balance of contributions from cruise lines to environmental organizations and everything in between."
The Infinity sails around the world but spends the summer months traveling between Seattle and Southeast Alaska.
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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