- Costing Oceans an Arm and a Leg
Costing Oceans an Arm and a Leg
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By Neesha Kulkarni
Even before the Deepwater Horizon disaster our oceans were under assault. Oceans are the source of more than half of the air we breathe and yet they are under constant threat from garbage dumped onshore and at sea, agricultural and municipal run-off, sewer overflows, oil spills, chemical dumping and ship pollution. And now they face the rising specters of ocean acidification and climate change. Every year, new species of fish are added to lists of contaminated seafood, more beaches are closed due to fecal bacteria contamination, and more animals die from ingesting plastic. It is no wonder that when BP’s CEO Tony Hayward dismissed the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico as a small matter in a big ocean and others say that the ocean can handle it, those assertions are met with disbelief and outrage.
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Philippe Cousteau, Jr. probably summed it up best when he said, “I could cut my leg off, I could cut my arm off, I could gouge my eye out, I’d still probably survive, but not very well, and that’s what we’re doing to the ocean. It’s the life support system of this planet. We’ve been dumping in it, we’ve been polluting it, we’ve been destroying it for decades, and we’re essentially maiming ourselves… It’s not a question of whether the oceans can take anymore. The ocean can’t take any more. They couldn’t take any more fifty years ago. The question is, when are we going to stop?” The ocean provides the air we breathe, food we eat, and is a source of fun and solace and it is fighting for its life.
One of the hidden polluters of our oceans and our air are cruise ships. These giant floating cities visit pristine locations all the while dumping sewage, polluted gray water, and oily bilge water into our oceans and burning dirty bunker fuel, which releases toxins like nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter into the air. The pollution from cruise ships dumped into the water can be harmful to marine life and human health. The toxins released into the air can cause asthma and other respiratory illnesses as well as heart problems.
Friends of the Earth has been fighting on multiple fronts to put an end to the dumping practices of cruise ships as well as to the dirty fuel they use. We fought for, and helped achieve, the creation of a North American Emission Control Area where all vessels, including cruise ships, will have to burn cleaner fuel within 200 nautical miles of the U.S. and Canadian coastlines. We are also working with Congress to establish stronger standards for cruise ship discharges in U.S. waters. In May, Friends of the Earth issued its second annual Cruise Ship Report Card that grades cruise ships based on their sewage discharges and air emissions. The report card helps consumers choose cruises that are less polluting to our oceans and to our air. Like the oil polluting Gulf waters, cruise ship discharges affect marine life, human health, and people who make their living off the ocean.
It is time to stop treating our oceans like a garbage can and an open sewer. Just as we can make better choices about our oil consumption and support strong legislation to help end our addiction to oil, we can help our oceans and ourselves by making better vacation choices and supporting legislation to eliminate and reduce air and water pollution from cruise ships.