The Puerta Maya Cruise Center in Cozumel, operated by Carnival Corporation & plc (NYSE/LSE: CCL; NYSE: CUK), “officially” opened yesterday with grand opening festivities presided over by Francine Cousteau, president of the Cousteau Society and widow of pioneering undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau.

In addition to the re-opening of a new two-berth pier and expansive shopping and retail complex, Francine Cousteau served as “godmother” of a new artificial reef off the coast of Cozumel comprised of 56,000 tons of salvaged concrete pilings taken from Puerta Maya’s original pier that was destroyed by Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

The inauguration of the artificial reef kicked off two days of grand opening festivities for the Puerta Maya Cruise Center. Events included a gala fundraiser benefiting Parque Marino Arrecifes de Cozumel (Marine Parks of Cozumel) and the Cousteau Society, as well as an opening reception at the facility’s main plaza attended by Mexican government officials, including the Governor of the State of Quintana Roo Felix Gonzales Canto, Cozumel Mayor Juan Carlos Gonzales, and other federal, state and city representatives. A luncheon aboard the Carnival Legend took place, as well.

Located on the north coast of Cozumel, the new artificial reef was funded by Carnival Corporation & plc and will create a new underwater habitat within the island’s world-renowned reef system, part of the largest reef system in the Western Hemisphere.

While abundant with fish and other marine animals, the former marine habitat consisted mainly of vast areas of sand and seaweed. The new reef, called Lol-Ha after the Mayan word for “water-flower” and inspired by the centuries-old tale that explains how the sea got its blue color, creates an undersea environment that can support a wider variety of marine species, including soft and hard corals and sponges, as well as fish and crustaceans.

Carnival Corporation & plc and Puerta Maya officials also unveiled a number of educational and environmental initiatives designed to heighten awareness of the island’s precious natural resources. These include:

* Environmental Education – In partnership with the Cozumel Department of Education and Puerta Maya, Carnival is underwriting two environmental education programs for local schoolchildren. The first is an in-school program for younger students focusing on the importance of ocean and coral reef preservation. The second program, aimed at high school students, offers an overview of the wide-ranging environmental operations of cruise ships and includes field trips to visit cruise ships while they are in port where students can learn about recycling, water treatment and other shipboard environmental programs.

* New Snorkeling Guidelines - Carnival Corporation & plc has imposed new rules for tour operators offering reef snorkeling expeditions in waters surrounding Cozumel, which will also be expanded to other ports in the region. The new guidelines, which call for excursion operators to ensure that there is at least 10 feet (three meters) of depth between the surface of the water and reefs, are intended to protect the reef from damage caused by inexperienced snorkelers inadvertently kicking or standing on the reef, which can kill the living coral polyps that are the foundation of the reef structure.

* Permanent Environmental Exhibit at Puerta Maya – Designed to provide a comprehensive overview of Cozumel’s vast ecosystems, the 20-foot by 40-foot exhibit at the Puerta Maya Cruise Center features a series of panels and three-dimensional objects that focus on a variety of environmental preservation and protection efforts within the island and the surrounding area.

* ‘Beach and Coral Reef Etiquette Card’ - The card, which is distributed to cruise guests as they disembark the ship, consists of a map of the island showing the major coral reefs and beaches, with guidelines for the preservation of these natural resources. The card, which is printed in both English and Spanish, is suitable for use as a souvenir keepsake or bookmark.

“Cozumel is one of the world’s most beautiful cruising destinations and these wide-ranging initiatives underscore the importance of protecting and preserving the island’s precious natural resources, particularly its marine environments, which are such an important part of guests' cruise experience,” said Giora Israel, Carnival Corporation & plc’s vice president of strategic planning and port development. “We would also like to thank Mrs. Francine Cousteau for her role in serving as ‘godmother’ to this magnificent new artificial reef which will provide a valuable marine habitat, as well as a new underwater attraction for snorkelers and divers,” he added.

Representing an investment of more than $50 million, the rebuilt Puerta Maya Cruise Center includes a two-berth pier built to withstand a category 5 hurricane, along with a variety of shopping and dining opportunities and a transportation hub capable of accommodating dozens of taxis and tour buses. A new shore excursion pier allowing for quick and convenient access to all water-bound excursions, as well as water-based transportation to and from the facility, is also available.

Carnival Cruise Lines’ 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy and 2,052-passenger Carnival Ecstasy were the first cruise ships to call at the new Puerta Maya pier last week, representing the first of 550 cruise-ship visits at the facility over the next year. In addition to calling at Puerta Maya, vessels from Carnival Corporation & plc brands will continue to utilize the other two piers in Cozumel.

Collectively, these ships will bring an estimated 1.5 million visitors annually to Cozumel, who are expected to spend $126 million on the island each year.