Case Study: ORCA

The route between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly and the waters surrounding west Cornwall are incredibly rich in whale, dolphin and porpoises. ORCA are a marine conservation charity who play an important part in monitoring and protecting our oceans and we’ve been in partnership with them for 11 years. Throughout the Scillonian sailing season, we host teams of ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyors aboard our passenger ferry, Scillonian III; allowing them to record vital data about whales, dolphins along the Cornish coast.

ORCA believe in giving everyone who cares about whales and dolphins an active role in safeguarding their future. The charity trains volunteer “citizen scientists” to monitor cetaceans in waters around the UK and the rest of the world, using ferries and cruise ships as platforms of opportunity, collecting vital data about marine life and to help create protected areas.

Each Scillonian sailing season (March – November), ORCA volunteers have travelled aboard Scillonian 1-2 times per month to allow them to collect data from the waters between Penzance and St. Marys. Citizen scientists monitor the environmental conditions during the crossing, as well as recording any sightings of marine mammals they encounter. The data that is collected during these trips is crucial in understanding the whales, dolphins and porpoises seen around the Cornish coast.

This data is used to analyse and to identify important trends in the range and distribution of the cetaceans around the southwest. This research is published annually in the ORCA State of European Cetaceans reports, and shared freely with government, scientists and other conservation organisations to help put in place robust protections for cetaceans around the UK and Europe.

The waters around the Isles of Scilly have a huge range of marine mammals on show. ORCA have regularly recorded minke whales, common dolphins and harbour porpoises, but in the past other, more unusual, species such as humpback whales, killer whales and even a bowhead whale have been spotted and recorded in the southwest.

In 2017, a team of ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyors were surveying from Scillonian III, when they encountered a group of striped dolphins; the first ever recorded sighting of this particular species in the waters around Cornwall.

Steve Jones, head of ORCA partnerships said “The partnership we have with the Isle of Scilly Steamship Group is a really special one for the team – not only is the area incredibly important for whales and dolphins around the UK, but our volunteers love coming on board because they are made to feel so welcome by the entire crew. This relationship has been running for many years, and we hope that there will be plenty more exciting encounters for our teams to enjoy as we work with everyone at the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group to safeguard the future of whales and dolphins.”

If you’d like to get involved and become a volunteer, ORCA believes that anyone who is passionate and cares about whales and dolphins can take part. You’ll need to do a one-day training course to learn how to identify whales and dolphins and record scientific data, then you can apply to join one of the surveys.

Our policy is to strive for continuous improvements to our operations and procedures to reduce the impact on the environment. We aim to protect and promote good working practices and our Environmental Policy has been integrated into our Safety Management and Quality systems.

Our objectives are to:

  • To comply with the requirements of the company integrated marine and aviation management systems
  • Prevent pollution and minimise waste
  • Help to safeguard the marine environment through assistance in research projects
  • Support local environmental initiatives
  • Develop systems to improve environmental performance.
  • Commit to sustainability
  • Use energy and resources efficiently
  • Invest in modern eco-efficient technology, equipment and replacement vessels
  • Adhere to regulation and policy in relation to environmental monitoring and impact improvements
  • Promote the importance of environmental awareness to our employees
  • Protect the natural environment (both marine and land)
  • To have a commitment to continual improvement

The Environment Team

An Environmental Team from across the group has been formed to review and develop efficient working practices, with a commitment to improving and streamlining business activities and processes whilst adhering to the required CAA and MCA regulatory standards.

Sian Matthews

Executive Assistant

Vicky Wiltshire

Finance Manager

Chris Pearson

Airport Manager

Marcia Still

Scillonian III Purser

Jeanette Ware

Operations Manager

What we are doing

Our current areas for review include the following:

  • Increase recycling & improve waste management
    We will be looking to provide additional recycling points on our passenger ferry Scillonian III, our freight ship Gry Maritha and at Land’s End Airport. Penzance Dry Dock forms part of our group and they will continue to recycle all scrap metal.
  • Efficient energy usage
    We are currently working with Smart Energy Project, looking at ways to improve efficiencies across the entire group.
  • Single use plastics
    Our aim is to reduce the use of single use plastic. Our freight teams are trialing the use of wooden collars for the cargo pallets to replace the single use plastic wrapping. We are also investigating how we can replace the single use plastics used in Western Rocks Coffee Co and how the used coffee cups can be recycled.
  • Carbon off-setting opportunities
    Carbon off-set schemes allow companies such as ours to invest in environmental projects, this allows us to balance our carbon footprint. We are currently exploring opportunities and working towards significantly reducing our carbon footprint.
  • Environmental awareness in relation to pollution prevention
    Both our airline and marine operations adhere to current environmental regulations regarding pollution prevention.

Cycle to Work Scheme

We encourage employees to take up our cycle to work scheme. By switching from car to bike our employees are helping the environment by boosting air quality and reducing emissions whilst giving them a healthier lifestyle.

Reducing Single Use Plastic

Our goal is to remove all single use plastic where possible. We are actively looking at ways to reduce our use of single use plastic on Scillonian III and Land’s End Airport and are working with our suppliers to source alternative packaging.

Reducing Emissions

We recognise climate change as a big environmental threat. To help reduce our carbon emissions we locally source our produce sold in our cafés where possible to shorten the length of our supply chain which helps reduce emissions through deliveries.

Renewable Energy

In 2013 we built a new airport at Lands’ End, as part of the design for the new terminal we incorporated the installation of solar panels to provide energy for the airport. The electricity is generated from an 80 panel 20kWh which provides energy to help run the airport.


We are always looking for ways to improve the efficiency of the business. Metal, cardboard and plastics are recycled throughout the Steamship Group. We also assist the islands with recycling by shipping all their scrap metal back to the mainland.

Park & Ride and Transfer Services

Passengers park their cars and are transported to Penzance; this reduces congestion on the quay and local roads. We also provide a passenger shuttle bus service between Penzance railway station and Land’s End Airport, enabling customers to leave their cars at home.

Energy Use

We work alongside the SMART Energy Islands project with Hitachi. Energy efficiency surveys have been taken at Land's End Airport, Penzance Dry Dock and our head offices and we're now implementing the suggested improvements.

Reducing Printed Materials

We have significantly reduced our printed materials and have integrated digital systems wherever possible to reduce the amount of paper waste. Our passengers are now able to download and view literature on our website.

Ceramic Heating

Ceramic radiators have been installed in our engineering hangers at Land’s End Airport. We are trialing the heaters and it's hoped they will be more efficient than standard radiator and will mitigate the requirement for heating oil.

Partnering with wildlife experts to make a difference

We have teamed up with leading wildlife and conservation organisations who work in the areas and waters in which we serve. We work alongside two organisations who are improving habitats for our coastal wildlife and the marine environment. In addition onboard Scillonian III we have a wildlife ranger to educate our passengers about the marine life and wildlife found around the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall.

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