Aurora Expeditions’ carbon neutral ‘Sylvia Earle’ ship takes to Antarctica

aurora expeditions antarctica
Snorkelling at Danco Island in Antarctica. Image credit: David Hudson.
Aurora Expeditions continues its commitment to taking travellers on ‘bucket list’ journeys to the Antarctic with the launch of the Sylvia Earle, designed for maximum comfort and a floating ambassador for the conservation of the planet.

Australian-owned Aurora Expeditions is a pioneer in polar expeditions, having operated in the Antarctic and Subantarctic region for over 30 years. Its purpose-built expedition vessel Greg Mortimer revolutionised the small-ship expedition experience with its cutting-edge design and technology which makes sailing smoother and faster and allows for up-close encounters with the marine environment. “Aurora Expeditions’ pioneering spirit is part of our company’s DNA, starting with founder Greg Mortimer OAM: an inspirational explorer, mountaineer and someone who embodies a spirit of adventure,” says Aurora Expeditions CEO Michael Heath. “We honoured Greg’s legacy with our first purpose- built expedition ship, and credit our spirit of unbridled exploration of some of the planet’s most extraordinary, wild and rugged landscapes to him.”

aurora expeditions antarctica ship
Sylvia Earle at sea in the Antarctic.

This season, Aurora Expeditions is launching its sister ship to the Greg Mortimer. Named in honour of the leading marine biologist, the Sylvia Earle will join the Greg Mortimer with a variety of itineraries in the Antarctic and Subantarctic region from late 2022. “A very important part of Greg’s legacy is also Aurora’s respect for the environment and creation of lifelong ambassadors for the preservation and protection of the remote and vulnerable destinations we visit,” says Heath. “For our second purpose-built ship, we thought that it was only fitting to honour Dr Sylvia Earle, an incredible hero of our planet, and pay tribute to her lifelong contributions to ocean conservation.”

Dr Earle will be joining a special Antarctic Climate Expedition during the ship’s maiden season, taking place on 13 February 2023, where she will also christen the ship. This voyage will feature a collection of thought leaders in the fields of conservation, science, art, education and economics coming together to bring about public and government awareness of the importance and the splendour of the Antarctic. They will also address the warming climate and loss of sea ice in the southern polar region as a direct threat to the future of human life on this planet.

aurora expeditions antarctica sylvia earle
Dr Sylvia Earle is an American marine biologist, oceanographer, explorer and lecturer. She was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and is part of the group Ocean Elders, which is dedicated to protecting the ocean and its wildlife. Image credit: Todd Brown.

More than just a ship

The Sylvia Earle is a floating ambassador for the conservation of the planet. Certified 100 per cent carbon neutral, with a fully equipped Citizen Science Centre, it will feature expert lectures and participative citizen science programs, enriching the knowledge and connection to the places its passengers visit. With an average of 130-140 expeditioners per trip, Aurora’s aim is to get you off ship and experiencing the natural environment as much as possible. The ship can also utilise virtual anchoring to hold its position using a combination of GPS, steering technology, propellers and thrusters. This protects the sea floor and minimises the damage caused by conventional anchors.

aurora expeditions antarctica inside ship
The Sylvia Earle Science Centre on Sylvia Earle.

Sylvia Earle has been designed for maximum comfort. Aurora Expeditions was the first to use the Ulstein X-Bow hull on a passenger ship with the Greg Mortimer . The unique inverted design results in a wave- piercing effect that makes sailing smoother and faster, enabling better stability in poor weather conditions and rough seas. “This is so beneficial for the comfort of our passengers, given we travel to some of the most remote and wild destinations on our planet,” says Heath. “The X-Bow also requires less energy, assisting in reducing our overall fuel consumption.” The ship features a unique two-level glass atrium lounge in the bow, a modern lecture lounge, observation areas, Zodiac launching platforms, two restaurants serving excellent meals, a gym and wellness centre, a swimming pool, jacuzzis, a mudroom and many other amenities. “For Aurora Expeditions though, the most important feature of our ships is that they are designed to be comfortable base camps for discovery – we want to enable our passengers to get off the ship as efficiently as possible and into their adventures, exploring and connecting with nature and pushing their personal boundaries with our expert team, whether through our regular explorations or our unique add-on activity programs,” says Heath.

Maiden voyage

The Sylvia Earle will make her debut voyage on the 12-day Spirit of Antarctic trip departing Ushuaia, Argentina on 9 December and returning to Ushuaia on December 20, 2022. Sailing the Drake Passage and exploring the Antarctic Peninsula with nature setting its own agenda, each day will offer passengers elements of spontaneity and surprise as they discover the white continent.

Following her maiden voyage, the Sylvia Earle will continue her inaugural season on several voyages to Antarctica, followed by Costa Rica, the Canadian Arctic, Norway, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland and Scotland.

aurora expeditions antarctica room
Plush Balcony Stateroom onboard Sylvia Earle.

“Many of our passengers’ first experience with Aurora is of course with a voyage to awe-inspiring Antarctica – we offer a comprehensive offering including numerous fly-sail options and voyages ranging from 9-24 days, and we are always trying to innovate to offer our expeditioners a new way to discover this destination,” says Heath.

“In our 2023/24 season we have the new Circle and Weddell voyage, where adventurers can have the opportunity to visit two regions in Antarctica that most people will never experience – below the Antarctic Circle, and attempting to forge a path through the ice in the Weddell Sea.

“Another one I’m excited for is the Northern Lights Explorer, which explores the coastlines of the Arctic Circle, skirts around the Norwegian and Greenland seas, and explores the remote islands and villages of the region. In the evenings, we hope to catch the magical natural phenomenon that is the Northern Lights,” he adds.

Heath travelled to Antarctica for the first time earlier this year, and was completely in awe of the experience. “What an incredible place. It is such a unique environment and like nothing I had experienced before. From observing incredible glaciers and icebergs in places like the Lemaire Channel, and snow falling surrounded by a sometimes eerie silence, it is a destination where you really can gain perspective and respect for the full force of nature. Not to mention the spectacular wildlife encounters – penguins, crab eater and leopard seals, whales and more.

aurora expeditions antarctica penguins
A king penguin face-off at Gold Harbour. Image credit: Richard L’Anson.

“Being able to Zodiac cruise, partake in adventure activities and landings in this environment and feeling truly immersed in one of the least visited and most remote places on the planet, was really something very special.”

Aurora’s unique activity programme and focus on active adventure will play a major part in the expedition experience on the new ship, offering the likes of sea kayaking, scuba diving, polar snorkelling, alpine trekking and much more. It has also announced a list of exceptional guests to join upcoming voyages (see box, left). “Education and enrichment are at the heart of the way we explore, and we want to ensure each of our voyages inspires and connects our expeditioners more deeply to the places, wildlife and their fellow travellers,” says Heath.

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