How Eco Friendly Are Cruise Ships • Friends of the Earth

How Eco Friendly Are Cruise Ships

How Eco Friendly Are Cruise Ships

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If you’re like two thirds of the travelers across the globe, you want to enjoy the perks of a beautiful vacation while still being conscious of how it impacts the planet. Taking a cruise is appealing for many because of the way they are marketed. From the outside they sound like a glorious vacation; the floating cities have everything you need right at your fingertips. From top-of-the-line restaurants to on-board entertainment, blue seas to spectacular sunset views, they really seem to have it all. But cruises are not eco friendly in the slightest. 

There is no such thing as an eco cruise with these massive ships. What you don’t see on the cruise company’s websites, in their advertisements, and onboard is the hidden truth — cruises are devastating our environment, oceans, sea life, and coastal communities. 

Cruise Ship Pollution Facts

Cruise ships are floating cities that fill our air and water with pollutants. Here are a few quick cruise ship pollution facts to illustrate just how non-eco friendly this industry truly is.

  • Cruise engines run 24/7
  • A mid-sized cruise ship can use 150 tons of fuel daily; they burn in gallons per mile, not miles per gallon
  • Cruise ships use the cheapest, dirtiest fuel on the market then use scrubbers to clean smokestacks
  • Scrubber wastewater is then dumped directly into the oceans
  • Raw sewage and graywater can also be dumped into the ocean in most places
  • Cruise ships increase ocean noise, disrupting natural behaviors of oceanic wildlife
  • They spread bacteria and viruses

Top 5 Reasons to Never Take a Cruise

If you were hoping to take a cruise for a vacation, consider these horrible facts about them first.

1. They Pollute Coastal Communities

While many people think the added tourism improves the local economy, the majority of the businesses are operated by large corporations instead of local merchants. Cruise lines have devastated local economies — forcing those who once were successful business owners to abandon their own businesses filled with local culture and reinvent themselves to conform to tourist-friendly options. 

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If the coastal community is small, imagine the impact thousands of tourists have when flooding the area. When people disembark the giant ships, they fill the local area with their partying spirit — which frequently leads to excess noise and littering. They overcrowd beaches, restaurants, and bars — putting strain and pressure on the local people to keep up with their demand. 

And as the ships stay in port, they are filling the local air with constant pollution.

2. Excessive Air Pollution

This likely doesn’t come as a surprise, but cruises are horrible for air quality. Most run on heavy, dirty fossil fuels that have been linked to breathing problems and cancer. And cruise ships must run constantly! The entire ship is typically powered by this fuel day in and day out — whether at sea or port. Restaurants, casinos, TVs, spas, laundry facilities, lighting, and every other part of the ship is reliant on dirty fuel to power it. 

This means that the engines are always emitting sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide — which is pushing us closer to climate catastrophe. 

3. Dump Human Waste in the Ocean

Bathroom talk is never pleasant, but it’s something we all do on a regular basis. And our waste — a.k.a. poop — has to go somewhere. On a cruise ship, thousands of passengers and crew members are putting their waste into the ships system. And where does that waste eventually go? You guessed it — right into the seas and oceans. Yuck!

Now all the majestic marine wildlife is romping about in human feces filled with bacteria. The U.S. does have rules that require raw sewage to be treated first before discharging close to shore, but that isn’t solving the problem. Once the cruise ships are more than three and a half miles from shore, there aren’t any rules and raw sewage can be dumped, damaging our valuable oceanic ecosystem and the creatures that inhabit it. 

4. Destruction of Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are a vital part of our oceans. They are full of life and protect coasts from storms and floods, and ultimately erosion. Sadly, by 2050 coral reefs will likely be extinct. With cruises waste disposal, traffic, emissions, and damage from anchors and ship collisions there’s not much of a chance for coral to survive.

It is estimated that in Jamaica only five percent of the reefs surrounding the country have living coral. Off Florida’s coast about 90% of the coral is believed to be dying or already dead. 

A report found that in George Town, Grand Cayman that 300 acres of coral reefs were lost from cruise ship anchors – 300 acres! Another cruise in Cancun, Mexico ran aground and destroyed 80 percent of the coral reef in one of their national parks. Just one cruise did all that damage! This same area sees over 400 cruises annually — leaving the potential for environmental damage extremely high. 

5. They Perpetuate Animal Cruelty

Cruise ships harm animals in multiple ways. First, as we discussed above the pollution from the toxic chemicals being poured into the ocean can lead to the demise of many species — including orcas. But the dumping doesn’t stop there. Cruise ships have plastic straws and bottles that end up in the ocean which can choke and kill marine wildlife.

Beyond the pollution from cruise ships, they can injure and kill whales from ship strikes. With the enormous size of cruise ships, large species like whales go unnoticed until impact. Most ship strikes aren’t known about until the dead bodies wash ashore or a cruise ship shows up in port with a dead whale across its bow. Whales have been found with injuries to their skulls including fractures from blunt force trauma, severed dorsal fins, and propeller scars.

Sadly, these aren’t the only ways that cruises harm animals. Cruise ship excursions promote animal cruelty! Many of the excursions offered by cruise lines promote swimming with dolphins, horse rides, and other wildlife encounters that exploit the animals in the name of tourist entertainment. They are marketed as a “once in a lifetime experience”, but the animals are poorly fed, abused, live in horrific conditions, and are sometimes even drugged to tame their wild instincts. Yet the cruise companies often encourage tourists to engage with these excursions.  

Are There Any Eco Friendly Cruises?

The easy and obvious answer is no — there are no eco friendly big cruises. Even the most environmentally friendly cruises still perpetuate bad behavior towards the planet, coastal communities, and animals. 

If you want to see the most sustainable cruise lines check out our Cruise Ship Report Card — but don’t be disappointed when you see that none make the grade of being truly sustainable. 

With so many other travel options available, consider other green tourism options instead of a cruise. The planet and all its inhabitants will thank you. 

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