Are Cruise Ships Environmentally Friendly? • Friends of the Earth

Are Cruise Ships Environmentally Friendly?

Are Cruise Ships Environmentally Friendly?

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People are drawn to the sea, rightfully so. It’s beautiful, mysterious, and filled with a world below that still hasn’t been fully explored.  In fact, over 80 percent of the ocean has not been seen, mapped, or explored by humans. It’s a shadowy world with depths unknown. And you’d probably be surprised to find out that more of the moon and Mars have been mapped than the Earth’s oceans.  

But even with such a magnificent world left a mystery on our planet, only 7 percent of it is considered a marine protected area. The reason? It’s hard to protect what the world hasn’t explored. Leaving 93 percent of the ocean at risk — and polluters like the cruise industry have taken note. 

‘Is cruising environmentally friendly?’ is a very common question. Sadly, as fun as they seem, cruises pollute the water, air, and local communities. Cruise ships are not environmentally friendly.  

Why are cruises bad

Where to begin? First, let’s start with cruise ship sustainability.  This trendy term is greenwashing at its finest. Cruise ships are making surface level changes to appear sustainable. Changes like adding energy-efficient appliances, LED lightbulbs, and asking passengers to only request fresh linens and towels when needed. Many have even implemented recycling programs on their ships. And while we do not want to undermine these efforts, they’re nominal at best—things that have been done onshore for years.  

Cruise ships’ environmental impact goes well beyond the need for energy-efficient appliances and cutting down on laundry services. Most travelers these days have a sense of awareness about the climate problems our planet is experiencing, and the cruise industry isn’t doing nearly all it can to stop this crisis.  

How do cruise ships impact the environment

Cruise ships ecological impact is spread far and wide. No area that they touch is safe. 

  • Air Pollution: A mid-sized cruise ship can spew as much particulate matter each day as one million cars. And they emit other toxins like nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides. These floating cities are never “shut down” — their engines are running day in and day out to keep up operations, including in port cities. 
  • Water Pollution: Cruise ships can quite literally dump their waste directly into the ocean waters.  They can dump “black water” (sewage), “gray water” (waste from showers, sinks, and laundry), and scrubber wastewater (water used to clean heavy fuel oil exhaust from smokestacks). They also puree their food waste into liquid and deposit it directly into the ocean. 
  • Noise Pollution: As cruise ships move through the ocean, the noise radiating from them blasts into the surrounding water and down to the sea floor where it’s reverberated back to the surface. These noise disruptions can impact the natural migration patterns and daily lives of marine animals.  

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Who is most impacted by cruise pollution

There are two main groups who are more impacted than others when it comes to cruise ship pollution: coastal communities and marine wildlife.  

Cruise ships and coastal communities

Port communities have their coastlines inundated with cruise ships and their passengers. Not only is this a massive visual obstacle, but their presence also causes harm. First, as we mentioned above, cruise ships are never turned off. They are perpetually running to keep operations flowing — lights, food service, casinos, and the like. This means that cruise ships are emitting particulate matter into the atmosphere day in and day out. And since they’re run with the dirtiest, heaviest, most toxic fuel all that pollution is being spewed into the air in these port communities. And one cruise ship emits over 20 times more emission than a highly polluted roadway for coastal communities — but in many cases there’s never just one ship idling at the port.  

Next, there’s tourists who flood the towns. They embark and disembark in these coastal communities, causing an increased strain on infrastructure and for business owners and restaurants. Imagine 6,000 people flooding your small community — plastic bottles, trash and litter, noise, and traffic congestion. What a mess!  

But the harm caused by cruise ships to coastal communities does not stop there. The cruise industry has exploited small countries in search of the “private island” experience for their guests. They overtake pristine beaches and untouched regions and turn them into private theme parks for customers only. Coastal communities suffer while the cruise industry continues to rake in billions. 

Cruise ships and marine wildlife

Marine life have their habitat flooded with pollution from cruise ships as well. The toxic mix of sewage, food waste, and chemicals fills our ocean ecosystems — as long as the ships are a bit more than 3 miles from shore – and in some cases right at the dock. This pollution clouds the water and can reduce oxygen levels, introduces food sources that are not part of marine wildlife diets, and introduces toxins that impact the health and lifespan of wildlife. Cruise ships are legally dumping carcinogens into our ocean waters daily. 

Sadly, it doesn’t stop there. Noise pollution interferes with some wildlife’s communication and migration — and then there’s the potential for strikes by these cruise ships. Whales and other large marine animals are nearly impossible to spot on navigation of ships. Their bodies get the blunt force of the ship, leaving them severely injured or killing them on impact.  

The ocean is one of the most sensitive ecosystems on the planet — one that has yet to be fully explored by humans — and yet it is only minimally protected from the dangers of cruise ships. 

It’s safe to say cruise ships are not eco-friendly

Noise pollution, water pollution, air pollution — oh my! Any “green” initiatives that cruise ships are taking overlook the massive problems that they are causing to our planet. Cruise industry giants are trying to trick you into believing their sustainability efforts are helping. To get the truth, check out our Cruise Ship Report Card to get the details on how these cruise ships and the whole cruise industry actually stack up.   

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