Electric-powered boats are the future of eco-friendly marine tourism
By: Lola Méndez
As travel begins to resume after coming to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic it’s critical to make responsible tourism decisions to preserve the environment for future generations.
Our planet's waterways are suffering due to fuel-powered boats. When 30% of carbon dioxide from burning boat fuel dissolves into the ocean acidification and algal blooms increase, the ocean warms, and sea levels rise. When oceans absorb carbon dioxide chemical reactions produce hydrogen ions making the water more acidic. This reduces the level of carbonate ions which seashells and coral skeletons rely on to form and repair.
In the remote region of Raja Ampat, Indonesia MahaRaja Eco Dive Lodge is using emission-free boats. The region is home to 1,300 types of fish and 75% of the Earth’s hard-coral species—all of which are at-risk due to fuel-powered liveaboard boats, tour boats, and cruise ships. “Boat fuel, plastic, trash, destruction of coral, and fishing are fatal for marine life,” Mahasti Motazedi, the founder of MahaRaja, says. She doesn’t allow boats or fishing in the water surrounding Dokri Island.
At MahaRaja, traditional Papuan wooden longboats—painted in Motazedi’s signature color of bubblegum pink—are equipped with climate-friendly motors. “Electric motors are the best way to limit the impact on marine life. We chose Torqeedo to reduce fuel pollution as their motors are light, portable, and quiet which limits disturbance to the marine life,” Motazedi says.
Electric outboards reduce carbon emissions by 30% to 95% according to Dr. Christoph Ballin, Torqeedo CEO. The Puck Ampat is a 26-foot long boat for six passengers with the Torqeedo Travel 1003 motor, made for hour-long trips up to six miles. The Puck Tiga is a 72-foot long boat that can transport 12 divers for two hours for trips up to 12.5 miles with the Torqeedo Cruise 4.0 motor.
Motazedi’s holistic approach to sustainability has revitalized the coral reef. “Our reef is a natural nursery for marine life. We’ve seen a growth of 400% in measured species, over 20 new species, and a steady increase in the number of juveniles since September 2018,” Motazedi says.
Similar to when solar panels were introduced to the market, the cost of the electric motors limits accessibility. “Frequent usage means the higher upfront cost is rapidly offset. The total cost of ownership is lower than burning dirty fossil fuels so it’s a climate win, health win, and economic win,” Dr. Ballin says.
Motazedi aims to equip neighboring villagers with Torqeedo motors and a solar charging station. “I hope we can have electric motors at Arefi Village so we won’t need fuel anymore, which we can barely afford,” Bernard Rumbewas, the Papuan director at MahaRaja, says. Limited mobility prevents villagers from being able to take their children to schools on a nearby island.
Rumbewas is hopeful boat operators will take responsibility for their carbon footprint. “It’s very important for the people of Raja Ampat to preserve the land and the ocean our ancestors transmitted to us for the next generation,” he says. He was thrilled to hear electric engines are positioned to become mainstream as Amsterdam has outlawed petrol and fuel-powered boats by 2025. Electric-powered boats are the future of eco-friendly marine tourism.
Lola Méndez is an Uruguayan-American freelance journalist. She writes about sustainability, travel, culture, and wellness for many print and digital publications such as CNN Travel, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, and more, in addition to her responsible travel blog, MissFilatelista.com. She's a full-time globetrotter who travels to develop her own worldview and has explored over 60 countries. Passionate about sustainable travel, she seeks out ethical experiences that benefit local communities. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.