Are cruises eco friendly? The short answer is NO. Here’s why you should never go on one
By Lora O’Brien
Are cruises eco friendly? They certainly seem so! We’ve all seen those adverts. You know, the ones with the beaming couple that are silhouetted by clear blue skies and crystal clear sea. The same adverts that show people relaxing back on sun loungers as they advertise the most breathtakingly beautiful natural destinations. Peals of happy laughter are the background soundtrack to a voice-over that boasts that this holiday is one that the whole family will love.
And what’s not to love, with the endless list of first class entertainments, Michelin-style dining with guest celebrity chefs, and the chance to don a suit and attend fashionable black tie events? From the impressive swimming pools, on-board clubs and casinos, to the range of shops and the variety of dance classes, being bored on board is something you’ll never have to worry about.
Additionally, when Greta Thunberg cruised to the UN Climate Action Summit on the state-of-the-art sailing boat Malizia II, she also gave the impression that boating is a more eco-friendly way to travel. Yet, her boat was unique in the sense that it was owned by Monacan Royalty, and was fuelled by solar panels. And what the newspapers failed to mention was that a crew had to fly to New York to sail the boat back home, which rather defeats the purpose of the cruise in the first place.
Yep, what the papers and the ads don’t show is the hidden ugly truth behind cruises, and the devastating environmental impact that they’re having on our oceans, sea life, and environment. Although the public perception is that cruising is a lower carbon method of travel, this is absolutely NOT the case, as I will prove below.
Here are 9 excellent reasons to never take a cruise holiday.
9 Reasons to NEVER Take A Cruise
1. Dumping Poop in the Ocean
There’s really no delicate way of putting this. Yep, I’m talking about raw sewage. Apologies if you’ve just eaten, but we’re all familiar with that phrase ‘what goes in must come out’, and if you consider that some of the smaller cruise ships can hold at minimum 2,000 people, 8,000 for the newer, much larger ships, then that’s a LOT of human waste flowing through those pipes. And where do you think it’s all going? Right into our seas, of course.
The law states that waste dumped within three nautical miles of any shore must be treated, but if cruise ships are beyond that (and most of the time, they are), they’re allowed to dump that filthy, raw sewage straight into the ocean. And with cruise ships supplying seemingly never ending quantities of food and drink to its guests, this is resulting in 25,000 gallons of sewage waste daily from its toilet systems alone. And that’s without considering the 170,000 gallons of toxic grey water that comes from its sinks, showers, laundry and dry cleaning rooms, with all their dirty concoctions of shampoos, detergents, oil and even pesticides.
So, are cruises eco friendly? Well, is sewage eco friendly? Um, no.
2. The Destruction of Coral Reefs
Despite there being 7,000 coral reefs throughout the world, it has been reported that by 2050, all coral reefs could be extinct and things of memory alone. Considering that the use of cruise ships is greater now than ever, it’s fair to say that they, along with global warming, are making a serious impact here.
With their traffic, unethical waste disposal, and pollution of various other forms, there can be little doubt cruise ships are having a hugely negative impact on the survival of the coral reef and other ecosystems.
Just one horrendous example of coral reef destruction took place when a single Norwegian Cruise Line ship shockingly destroyed 80% of a coral reef just off of Cancun, Mexico. And with an estimated 400 yearly visits to Cancun, its unavoidable that further accidents will continue to happen there, and anywhere else cruise ships are present in droves.
Coral reefs have also been destroyed by cruise ships in Indonesia and other delicate parts of the world. Below is a typical photo showcasing a piece of the coral reef before and after damage. Photo source: www.iflscience.com
3. Surprisingly, Air Pollution
Cruise ships have recently been referred to as ‘floating cities’ and like our own cities, air pollution is inevitable in a world where loads of electricity is needed for using energy-intensive conveniences such as laundry facilities, TVs, wifi, saunas and so on.
While many seem to regard cruisers as being less polluting than planes, the fact is that per passenger, cruises are actually polluting in terms of their carbon footprint than flying. In fact, a cruiseliner such as Queen Mary 2 emits 0.43kg of CO2 per passenger mile, compared with 0.257kg for a long-haul flight, even allowing for the further damage of emissions being produced in the upper atmosphere. Sometimes our instincts about what’s best for the environment are just wrong.
What’s more, cruise liners run on nasty, dirty diesel, which is responsible for breathing problems and cancer. Moreover, even when they’re docked, ships continue running dirty diesel engines in order to continue providing electrical power to the passengers and crew choosing to stay on the ship. These engines give off nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and climate-killing carbon dioxide.
Sulfur dioxide alone, produced from the burning of coal and oil, is associated with asthma and chronic bronchitis. Although we as humans can be more resilient to sulfur dioxide pollution, other creatures trying to survive among us aren’t so lucky – it even has an impact on our trees.
Specifically, the amount of toxic air that a human can handle is higher than that of a tree, meaning that sulfur oxides will have destructive results especially on vegetation, and the deterioration on soil. And if that isn’t scary enough, another comparison to shock you shows that in just one day at sea, a cruise ship will emit more sulfur dioxide than 13 million cars, and create more soot than 1 million cars. Nasty!
4. Too Many People! Tourist Damage
It’s to be expected that when a cruise ship docks, there’s going to be an influx of tourists getting off that ship, and spreading out across a destination like wildfire. Let’s just put that into perspective: that’s between 2-8,000 people suddenly getting off the same ship, and all simultaneously hitting what are already crowded, popular tourist attractions, bars, beaches, cafes and restaurants. That’s a helluva lot of tourists, and a helluva crowd on that ‘idyllic’ beach.
Tourists can also have a huge impact in coastal towns, due to the fact they start adding to the pollution, waste and water needs of the local population, and if the place these tourists are visiting is small, you can imagine the kind of pressure and strain that that mass amount of tourists will be putting on the local residents of the small town.
In need of money, many places have tried to cater to tourists and capitalize on their arrival. But this of course comes at a cost, with many areas having developments created especially for tourists, including opening beaches up for them to relax on, and constructing piers for tourists to walk along.
This overdevelopment, which focused on almost solely cruise tourism, has a huge impact on the already fragile marine ecosystems, with mangrove forests being removed to make way for those tourist beaches, and docking structures being built directly on top of already fragile coral reefs. Large numbers of tourists visiting beaches also disturb already endangered marine animals such as turtles from nesting due to the busy actions of their beaches.
The mass amounts of visiting tourists in some places will also have huge impacts on the land itself: already sinking Venice has threatened to ban cruise ships as they say the bombarding of the town with thousands of cruise passengers at once is actually accelerating the sinking of the city. No wonder the people of Venice are leaving in droves, making this once-lively city nothing but a living museum.
5. Their Garbage Disposal is Crap
Like the sheer volume of sewage waste that accumulates on a cruise ship, it is also easy to imagine the vast amounts of garbage waste that builds up. And where does all this garbage get tossed?
Although it is illegal, many cruise ships and their passengers still toss rubbish overboard, and just last year it was reported that a cruise ship sailing off the coast of Brazil was caught offloading black bin liners full of plastic, right into the ocean.
As was mentioned, there are laws against this, but because it’s normally done in the dead of night with few if any witnesses or any feasible way of controlling it, we just don’t know how many cruise ships actually do toss their rubbish overboard, but it’s likely to be all of them.
What we do know is that it has been noted by residents of coastal towns where cruises are frequent that there is a vast increase in the plastic that is showing up in the water and washing up on their shores; much more than there ever has been before. And many restaurant and bar owners have spoken openly about knowing exactly where that garbage comes from, based on the labels of products they find on their shores: yep, it’s from cruise ships.
I’m sure we all know the devastating impact plastic is having on our marine life: sea animals often eat plastic, mistaking it for food, and die. They get entangled in plastic which restricts their movement and often cuts into their skin. In short, animals are fighting for survival due to items that shouldn’t be polluting their waters, and many of those items are dumped by cruise ships.
Image via www.projectgreenbag.com
6. Ballast Water Kills Everything
A ballast water system is responsible for compensating in the change of cargo load on board a cruise ship. With vast amounts of this water being used, the capacity on the larger ships sometimes totals gallons of water in the millions!
The tanks allow cruise ships to pump water in and out, depending on factors like cargo load and weather conditions. Ballast water will be taken in on one region after a ship discharges wastewater, or unloads cargo, and that ballast water will be discharged at the next port so that new cargo can be loaded.
In short, the need for a ballast system is so that the cruise ships can carry light or heavy loads all whilst maintaining ideal buoyancy and to be able to handle unexpected conditions such as weather changes.
But ballast water is far from being friendly to our marine environments, as invasive species like starfish or algae can embed themselves within the water, and when they get sucked up at one place and dumped out at another by these massive cruisers, their nastiness just spreads.
Researchers claim that one third of all documented invasive plants and animals are able to travel within ballast water tanks. Consequently, cruisers then try to ‘solve’ the problem by using bleach and another toxic chemicals to kill off these species. But guess what? They kill off ALL marine species by doing so!
Consequently, cruisers have a devastating impact on all aquatic life living near any of the ballast water discharge points. Given that cruise ships go to touristy places of natural beauty, that means that natural beauty is being slowly killed off through this system.
7. They Regularly Kill and Injure Whales and Dolphins
Many people hang over the rails and try to see if they can spot whales or dolphins as their cruise ships go by. But what many of them aren’t aware of is that the massive ship they’re holidaying on is often responsible for injuring, and in more severe cases, killing whales when their ships collide with them.
It’s thought that due to the resilience and size of the much larger cruise ships, the impact when hitting a whale – even the larger whale species – goes unnoticed. And in turn, the injured whales go unreported.
But in 2010, an unusually high number of humpback whales were found dead. Two whales in particular were found to have injuries consistent with high impact blunt force trauma, resulting in skull fractures. In both these cases, it was determined that vessel collision was the cause of their death.
Whilst fin whales, humpback whales, and killer whales are known as being the most common whales involved in collisions with vessels, in 2011 researchers found evidence of ‘ship strikes’ among much smaller marine animals, too. Pacific white-sided dolphins were among the creatures that displayed scars and injuries seeming to be inflicted from a vessel. One animal had a severed dorsal fin, and other dolphins were found to have propeller scars over their backs.
Image below: A dolphin displaying propeller scars after being hit by a cruise ship. Photo credit: M. Jenner
8. They Literally Promote Animal Cruelty
From swimming with dolphins and circuses to horse rides, cruise companies regularly promote activities involving animal cruelty.
For example, the Carnival Cruise Line – one of the world’s biggest cruise companies – has come under fire for sending tens of thousands of its passengers every year on excursions to the Cayman Turtle Centre: Island Wildlife Encounter, where endangered turtles are allegedly subjected to “appalling” living conditions and are “exploited in the name of tourist entertainment”, including as props for selfies.
Dolphin rescue groups have repeatedly protested against ”swim-with-the-dolphins” excursions, like the notorious Blackbeard’s Cay in the Bahamas, which have become a major feature of the cruise experience. Carnival and Royal Caribbean advertise them as “once in a lifetime experiences” and heavily promote the cruel activity to their hundreds of thousands of customers.
Cruise lines also sell dozens of excursions to tour the various port towns of the Caribbean via horse drawn carriages. In most cases, the horses are poorly fed and abused. They suffer from heat exhaustion, dehydration, malnutrition, traffic fumes, noise pollution, stress, and injuries. The situation in Nassau is particularly bad; a malnourished horse dropped dead on Bay Street in downtown Nassau only to be tied by the legs and dragged down the street by a pickup truck.
Exploiting animals is a dreadful way to spend a vacation, but cruise companies regularly encourage tourists to do this.
9. They’re a Huge Eyesore
This may not be the most serious reason on the list, but it IS one to consider. Imagine you’re there in a place of outstanding beauty. There’s a glorious sunset, the silhouettes of palm trees and the gentle sighing of waves hitting the shore, whilst pelicans gather on rocks.
Suddenly, you hear what sounds like a massive truck horn and you see thick, black smoke on the horizon, just before a cruise ship the size of a small skyscraper block appears from behind that mountain and totally obstructs your view.
Whilst those on the ship may not be aware of how massive and ugly cruisers are, the fact is, their very size alone is enough to make many who live on coastal areas demand they be banned, as they completely obliterate what would normally be stunning views. Visual pollution is a ‘thing’ too, you know!
So are cruises eco friendly? No. The bottom line is, if you love animals, value the planet and want to preserve spots of beauty for the next generation, just say NO to any kind of cruise.