How Can The Cruise Ship Industry Become Sustainable and Reduce Environmental Impact?

How Can The Cruise Ship Industry Become Sustainable and Reduce Environmental Impact?

In many cities over-tourism due to the robust cruise industry has sparked debates and controversial measures. The devastating effects of thousands of tourists visiting heritage sites over a couple of hours without staying in local hotels or eating in local restaurants is outweighing the economics city tourist boards envisioned.

Venice is banning cruise ships from entering the Giudecca Canal due to water, air and noise pollution destroying the heritage of the canal and city. Mallorca,  Dubrovnik, Santorini, Dublin and Bruges have capped the number of ships into their harbors and Barcelona took it one step further adding a cruise tax. Reducing the number of people is an important factor, but the pollution the ships generate also has to be addressed.

Cruise ships use heavy crude oil containing 2,000 times more sulphur oxide than ordinary diesel used by cars. In 2017 cruise ships in Barcelona emitted 32.8 tonnes of sulphur oxide (SOx). Part of the issue is the ships keep running while sitting at port and there is growing support to electrify docks to reduce air pollution. 2025 is the target date for the Barcelona power grid to be able to accommodate this load and the result could reduce NOx by 10%. It's a start, but what about the water pollution and marine life at risk from cruise ships.

Closer to home the popular Alaska cruises dump their waste along the Canadian coastline. In one year approximately 8.5 billion gallons of pollution are discharged. Toxic sewage from toilets, grey water from sinks, showers and laundry, bilge water that is an oily build up and acidic waste water from scrubbers removing exhaust gases are dumped into the Canadian waters because they have lighter regulation than the United States. For example the coast of Washington state is protected and a no-discharge zone so ships hold their waste and then discharge when they reach Canada.

 All this waste is dangerous to marine life and ocean ecosystems regardless of where it is dumped and the noise and vibration from ships in the water endangers natural habitats. Seattle Cruise Control monitors port activities in Seattle and attended Port of Seattle meetings along with many others fighting for a healthy planet, demanding the cruise industry be held accountable to the negative impact they have on port cities due to the enormous amount of air and water pollution they generate.  The passion and commitment of Seattle Cruise Control, many activists and concerned citizens resulted in the Port of Seattle cancelling plans to build a third port T46.  Read some statements recapped here by Activist, Andrea O'Ferrall and if you have any thoughts on joining a protest in the future read about this emotional sit in at Pier 66.

Is the cruise industry going to go away? I don't think so, but with increased regulation and consumers demanding change improvements can be made. It is not enough to reduce single use plastic on the ship or suggest housekeeping once a day instead of twice like some ships are offering, and it is not enough to just buy carbon offsets. The number and sizes of ships can be reduced. Ships can run on cleaner fuel, toxic dumping can be banned and enforced, staff wages can be increased and working hours can be reduced. 

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