Cruise Ship Water Pollution

Cruise Ship Water Pollution

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The cruise industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry – and one that is filled with pollution. Water pollution from cruise ships is just one of the reasons why cruises are bad for the environment. Sadly, even with many tourists aware of the pollution from cruises, the cruise industry continues to grow.  

The new top-of-the-line ships are shiny, filled with entertainment, and look like an impressive vacation. Unfortunately, they are filling the waters that they travel with a mix of toxic pollutants, causing the marine ecosystems in their path to suffer.   

Do ships pollute the water?

Cruise ships polluting the ocean is nothing new. But you might be surprised to find that sewage from the cruise ships can be pumped directly into the ocean without being treated in most places. That’s right! All of the human waste that is collected onboard can be directly deposited into the ocean waters – as long as the ship is beyond 3 and a half miles from shore. This leads to more than a billion gallons of sewage being pumped into our oceans every year. Yuck! Could you imagine having all that sewage dumped on your head? It’s a sad reality for marine wildlife.  

Cruise ships dump waste in the ocean

Sewage isn’t the only waste that cruise ships dump in the ocean. “Gray water” – the water that is collected from showers, sinks, and laundry facilities – is also dumped into open ocean waters and graywater can be just as polluted as sewage but there are even fewer rules for where this can be dumped. But that’s not all. Cruise ships also dump: 

  • Solid Waste – paper, food waste, glass, plastic, etc. 
  • Oily bilge water – water mixed with oily fluids such as grease and lubricants and other wastes that accumulate from sources like the engine and other mechanical sources 
  • Scrubber wastewater – water used to remove heavy fuel oil pollution from smokestacks 

All this waste is filled with toxins! Bacteria, chemicals, heavy metals, and oily waste all end up in our oceans – and it’s mostly all legal – with the exception of plastics.  

When it comes to dealing with the water pollution from cruise ships the ecosystems that are disrupted have no say in the matter. The marine wildlife has this waste dumped on top of them, impacting their food, migration patterns, and overall health. Communities lose vital coral reefs and end up with polluted fishing grounds. What was once clean water is now filled with carcinogens and there’s no escape.  

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid this. You can become a member of Friends of the Earth and push to change this polluting industry. You can also make smart travel choices that don’t include taking a ride on these toxic ships.  

Help power change. It takes support from environmental champions like you to build a more healthy and just world. Donate now!

Cruise ships and coral

If cruise ships dumping enormous amounts of food waste, oily wastewater, and sewage wasn’t enough, in addition to all this water pollution, cruise ships destroy coral due to their gigantic size.  

After all, how do you keep a floating vessel in place? The simple answer is an anchor. But below the ship bobbing in the waters are coral reefs that are already struggling to thrive due to water pollution. The ships’ anchor systems can cause irreparable damage to these critical ocean ecosystems and their related organisms. In many places where coral thrives, the cruise industry destroys it to build docks and channels to get into port. 

Interesting fact: coral reefs shelter one-fourth of marine species around the globe? So when they are impacted by cruise ships, a quarter of marine species are impacted as well! 

Example of a cruise ship destroying a coral reef

In 2015 off the coast of Grand Cayman, two scuba divers watched in horror as the cruise ship Pullmantur Zenith (owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises) lowered its anchor off the coast of the island near a protected coral reef. The reef took centuries to grow but within minutes was obliterated into dust as a chain and the anchor drug across it.  

Even with the video evidence showing the detrimental impact of the cruise ship, nothing could be done.  According to the Department of Environment in Grand Cayman, the cruise line had been given permission to drop anchor there. But this was a protected coral reef. Divers aren’t allowed to pick an empty shell; fishers are not allowed to fish in the area nor hunt lobsters. Even with laws in place to protect against damage to coral reefs, the cruise industry was given a green light to destroy it.  

Unfortunately, this is just one of many examples of the ways that cruise corporations destroy coral reefs.   

Cruise ships and plastic waste

Another common question is what do cruise ships do with plastic waste. Plastic is a real problem – both on land and in our oceans. By 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish in our seas if we continue to let the oil and gas industry produce plastics. And when plastics enter an oceanic ecosystem, they don’t disappear, they break down into smaller and smaller pieces. They’re ingested by marine wildlife that confuses it for food. This can cause them to be strangled, choke, or die from bellies full of plastic.  

Cruise lines are not legally allowed to dump plastic waste in the oceans. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t guilty of it. In 2019, Carnival Corporation and its subsidiary Princess Cruise Lines were given a $20 million fine, and part of that included illegally throwing plastic directly into the ocean. What’s worse, Princess Cruise Lines had to pay $40 million in criminal fines just two years prior for dumping plastic straws, food waste, and aluminum into the ocean.  

To these corporations, these fines are a drop in the ocean in the grand scheme of things. Carnival Corporation makes billions of dollars in revenue annually. They chalk fines up to a slap on the wrist, although they’ve made promises to “cut back on plastic waste”. 

Not just water pollution

Water pollution is just the tip of the iceberg. Cruise ships are notorious for many types of pollution – water, noise, and air. Their environmental impact is far-reaching, and each cruise line has many faults. It’s nearly impossible to find a eco-friendly cruise line.  

Be sure to check out Friends of the Earth’s Cruise Ship Report Card to see how each cruise line is failing our planet. It is our hope that with the spotlight directed on the environmental damage from the cruise industry, along with concerned people like you, we can push these Cruise Giants to change their polluting ways.  

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