Early this week I saw a huge cruise ship coming into harbor. The vessel was so large it dwarfed the port facilities. One usually associates cruise ships with retired people as passengers, but in reality this industry is one of the fastest growing components of global tourism.
But cruise ships can be a hazard to the environment many ways. The most immediate for islands such as ours is the huge impact so many visitors can have on sensitive sites like reserves and bird islands. Cruise ships can also cause massive anchor damage to coral reefs and other sensitive habitats.
The number of visitors on a typical cruise ship can number 2,000 to 5,000 people. The cruise ship also hosts many more people to service these passenger and many facilities such as shops, casinos, and sports, beauty and spa facilities. In the book Cruise Ship Blues, author Ross Klein says that on land, environmental protection laws and agencies would regulate such operations. Cruise ships literally sail away from such concerns because they fly under flags of foreign nations and in international waters.
A typical cruise ship produces about 140,000 liters of untreated raw sewage every day. On a seven-day cruise, a vessel can generate about 45 liters of used paints, 2 kilos of medical waste, 600 liters of photo chemicals and 30 liters of dry-cleaning waste. That doesn’t include the more than 1 million liters of gray water every day from showers, sinks, and laundry, carrying chemicals and detergents into the sea. When outside the territorial waters of a country the vessels can dump all this directly into the seas.
This is not to say that cruise ships get away scot free. Huge fines have been imposed on cruise companies for illegal dumping. The Royal Caribbean line paid fines amounting to more than 30 million US Dollars over a period from 1998 to 2000 for environmental offenses. The Carnival Corporation was fined $18 million for illegal oil discharges in 2002. But it seems that the fines are not punitive enough because cruise lines continue to illegally dump at sea.
Experts like Ross Klein say that cruises can also be hazardous for passengers and staff. Packing so many people in close quarters for extended periods of time can lead to various ailments including a transmittable gastrointestinal disease caused by the Norwalk virus.
Not all cruise lines are environmentally unfriendly. The pioneering Linblad Explorer that visited Seychelles in the 1970’s was one of the first “green” cruise ships. I travelled on this cruise ship as a teenager with my dad and was privileged to see my first Magpie Robin in the company of pioneering American ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson when it visited Fregate island. Today organisations such as the WWF and National Geographic offer eco-cruises that use the money for good conservation causes