Cruise Ship Pollution Effects on Marine Life • Friends of the Earth

Cruise Ship Pollution Effects on Marine Life

Cruise Ship Pollution Effects on Marine Life

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The cruise industry is a gigantic, multibillion-dollar industry. Since these aquatic vessels arrival on the scenes in the early 1900s, cruise ships were considered a symbol of luxury. They were the epitome of the high and glamorous life. In the 1960s, the “modern-day” cruise began to take shape. It turned away from the Trans-Atlantic ships that immersed visitors in luxury and began offering a more casual experience for all income levels, with destinations including Mexico and the Caribbean. 

These floating cities carry millions of travelers year after year, but they are leaving behind a flurry of toxins in their wake. This pollution, especially sustained over time, has impacted marine wildlife including dolphins, fish, and coral. The environmental impact of cruise ships on marine wildlife cannot be overlooked — especially as the industry continues to grow.

What animals are harmed by cruise ships

Sadly, all marine wildlife is harmed by cruise ships. They not only pollute the air and water with toxic chemicals and waste, but they also add noise pollution. The oceans are getting louder and marine animals cannot escape it.  

How animals are harmed by cruise ship pollution

Waste from cruise ship enters the marine ecosystem. Solid waste including glass, plastic, and food are introduced into the water, which ultimately ends up in the bellies of fish, sea turtles, and other marine wildlife. These creatures cannot process the foreign objects, which can choke them or destroy their digestive system, leading to death.

Additionally, noise pollution can impact whales hearing and can interfere with their behavior. And water pollution clouds the water and leads to reduced oxygen levels — among many other things.

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 How cruise ships harm animals beyond pollution

Beyond pollution, cruise ships are dangerous to whales. Humpback whales, blue whales, and other species can be hard to spot on ships navigation. Even with whale avoidance programs, whales are hit and killed by these large floating vessels. And the ships are so big, they don’t even know they have killed a whale until they end up in port with one dead across their bow. In the last five years, at least 112 whales that washed up dead were identified by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) as having injuries that were consistent with ship collisions. But this startling statistic doesn’t include whales that never wash ashore. The true number of whales harmed is currently unknown.

Noise pollution effects on marine life

Noise pollution is getting worse, with more and more ships filling our ocean waters. The noise from the moving ships blast into the depths of the ocean to the sea floor. The noise is then reverberated back to the surface. The acoustic vibrations impact marine animals’ ability to live in their natural ecosystems without harm. From the grunts of Atlantic cod to the deep bellowing from blue whales, the oceans typical symphony of sound is being drowned by ships carting millions of vacationers from one destination to the next. 

The human-caused noise has already been linked to impacts on marine life. It has disrupted normal behaviors, impaired feeding, increased stress, and masks communication. Whale calls are much louder now because of ship noise—they have to yell to be heard. Many of these impacts can result in injury and death. When you add in additional stressors — like water pollution — it contributes to the overall decline of the ocean ecosystem. 

Effects of water pollution on marine life

Cruise ships are floating cities, filled with people looking to get from one hot travel spot to the next. But unlike land-based cities, these ships are filled with people along with their human waste, with nowhere to put it — except in the oceanic ecosystem. From cruise ports to the open ocean, the cruise industry produces and dumps an exorbitant amount of waste.

  • Solid waste. This is the type of waste that people would recycle or throw away throughout their daily life. But on cruise ships, this waste gets incinerated. Glass, cans, cardboard, and plastic all get burnt into ash and can be dumped into the ocean. Solid waste is also thrown overboard by careless travelers.
  • Blackwater. Large cruise ships can hold up to 7,000 people. And 7,000 people all have to release their waste into the cruise’s plumbing system. This waste — from the thousands of people — that gets released into the ocean.
  • Graywater. This messy mix of water from showers, kitchens, sinks, and cleaning all gets dumped into the ocean waters.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cruise ship waste. Oily bilge water, scrubber wastewater, hazardous wastes, and sewage sludge all make their way into our oceans. Cruise ships sometimes treat the waste before dumping it, while other waste makes its way into the ocean without treatment.

The ocean is one of the most sensitive ecosystems on the planet. Coral reefs protect coastlines from erosion and storms, provide shelter for marine organisms, and are a source of nutrients and nitrogen for marine food chains. They’re a vital piece to the ocean ecosystem. But coral reefs are nearing extinction. When cruise waste is dumped into the ocean, it creates acid in the waters while decreasing oxygen levels. The result — algae blooms that further threaten coral reefs.

The complex marine life that calls our ocean waters home are all being poisoned by the ship waste dumped into their habitat.

Long term effects of ocean pollution

Marine wildlife has been exposed to pollution from cruise ships for over a century. But as time pushes forward, the pollution becomes more intensified. Our coral reefs are dying. Debris are choking and killing turtles, fish, and other oceanic life. Chemicals in the treatment process can harm animals’ reproductive systems. Noise pollution impacts sonar of animals that rely on it. 

Where does this leave us long term? Perhaps without coral reefs and orcas. With more marine life being pushed toward the brink of extinction. 

The oceans are a vital part of our world and need to be protected and kept clean. If you want to do your part to help preserve our oceans, we could greatly use a membership donation from concerned activists like you. Help us protect our oceans and marine wildlife.

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