Utter the words cruise ships, and you may think shuffleboard, luxury, and exoticism, a la classic TV show Love Boat. But when you take a deeper look at the industry beyond the copper tan and the booze, you are confronted with environmental sewage, viruses, and disgusting food.
Passengers consider sea travel a great way to sample destinations and are often enticed by all-inclusive extravagant expeditions to exotic destinations. The annual cruise industry in the United States alone is valued at 37. 5 billion, attracting more than 20 million each year. While ocean travel may seem like a harmless, fun, and family-friendly way to travel, the truth is, these massive vessels are negatively impacting our planet on a global scale.
According to Marcie Keever, the Oceans and Vessels Program Director at Friends of the Earth:
Cruises love to present themselves as all the same. They all claim to be clean and green and not harmful to the places they depart from or visit. Every indication we have is that they are not all the same — from the fuel they use to where they discard their wastewater. That’s the reason we put the report card together. We want people to make a good choice. We want people to have as much information as possible if they are going to travel on cruises.
On average, ships use approximately 140-150 tons of fuel per day, which works out to roughly 30 to 50 gallons per mile. These ocean liners possess large diesel engines with exhausts that potentially pollute the air with sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides — the main components of acid rain.
The destruction of our atmosphere is not the only concern, cruise ships are also greatly impacting our oceans and affecting human health. Cruise ships produce close to a billion tons of sewage each year. This sewage is made up of greywater from sinks, showers, and laundry; blackwater from toilets; and oily bilge water from leaks and machinery below the ship. Because this contaminated sewage is left untreated and expelled into the ocean, marine life, the atmosphere, and human lives are greatly impacted.
Given the great impact ocean travel has on the environment, families opting for the conveniences of an all-inclusive trip and the ongoing entertainment offered may want to reconsider. There are getaways that are more environmentally friendly. We are living in a time where our carbon footprint needs to be at a minimum and our oceans needs to be protected to ensure sustainability of our planet and the many forms of life inhabiting it.
6 Ways That Cruise Ships Negatively Impact Our Planet
1. Dirty Diesel Engines
Diesel engines are powerful machines, responsible for significant amounts of air pollution from the fuel they burn. There are about 2000 embarkation points around the world and port communities are especially at risk of these harmful emissions due to the high concentration. Cruise ship engines emit sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, and diesel particulate matter; all of which are extremely harmful to the environment and damaging to human health. Traveling by cruise ship causes 1,000 times more CO2 emissions than traveling by train.
2. Contaminated Sewage
About 1 billion gallons of sewage are dumped into the oceans by cruise ships each year. Much of this sewage is raw or poorly treated, containing harmful constituents such as bacteria, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, pathogens, and viruses among other things. It is evident that the disposal of these harmful substances greatly impacts sea life and its environment. Surprisingly, it is legal for cruise ships to dump untreated sewage into the ocean if disposed of at least 3 miles from the coastline. The dumped sewage is usually highly concentrated and life threatening to sea creatures. As a result, oceans are experiencing loss of species, destruction of coral reefs, and overall devastation of underwater ecosystems.
The billions of gallons of sewage that are dumped into our oceans annually can contaminate shellfish you then eat and beaches you lounge on. Untreated wastewater often contains human fecal matter which can have several types of pathogens present, including E. coli, Hepatitis, and salmonella. These pathogens are spread to humans when they come in direct contact with contaminated water or consume contaminated seafood.
3. Invasive Species
Ballast water is water that is picked up at the time of departure and stored in tanks and cargo holds of cruise ships to improve stability and maneuvering while at sea by keeping the weight distributed evenly. Ballast water is discharged at the next port, miles away from where it originated. Displacing water from one area of the ocean to another can have major impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Ballast water contains plants, animals, viruses and bacteria that may be invasive to the new area causing extensive damage to marine life and human health.
4. Suffocation Of Species
When cruise ships discharge their sewage, they add tons of phosphorus and nitrogen into the ocean. High levels of these nutrients in oceans is contributing to eutrophication. Eutrophication results in dense growth of plants, such as algae, ultimately striping oxygen from the ocean. Oxygen is essential to marine life, therefore, the lack of it is leading to the death of various marine animals. From the years 1990 to 2008 there has been a 0.0317 percent decline in atmospheric oxygen. Skokomish shellfish, Tilapia, Milkfish, Anchovies, Mackerel, and Sardines are some of the many species that are dying off due to lack of oxygen. Ultimately, all of sea life is affected by this major change in oxygen levels in the ocean.
5. Vomit, Viruses, And More
In addition to the major damage cruise ships cause to the atmosphere, aquatic ecosystems and human health, they also put passengers on board at risk of contracting several sicknesses and diseases.
It should be a priority to ensure proper sanitation and maintenance of cruise ships considering passengers are confined to such small spaces for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
During a Norwegian Cruise in November 2016, Maryam Henein, co-founder of HoneyColony, got severely sick within a day and a half. Henein, along with several other passengers, became ill from what she believes to be either mold or bacteria, particularly Legionnaires, coming from the ship’s AC units, due to freezing air conditioner and bacteria that was likely trapped in the air conditioner vents. Cruise ships, especially ones out of Florida, are a cesspool of bacteria, viruses and mold due to the humidity.
“It was my first, and definitely my last cruise,” says Henein who had to spend an entire day and a half self-quarantined in her room where she killed the air-conditioner and mega dosed on Silver Excelsior, which helped her recover. “Fortunately I had super concentrated chelated silver which I took every few hours,” says Henein. “And I know that this is what allowed me to recover quickly.”
She attended a Summit at Sea event with approximately 4,000 other passengers. The event ironically addressed sustainability, when in fact it was an extremely unsustainable voyage.
Thoroughly cleaning and properly sanitizing HVAC units can help prevent viruses such as mycobacterium, Legionella, algae, and mold from spreading while aboard cruise ships. According to the international cruise industry laws, tight living quarters and poor air circulation aboard means ships should regularly clean condensate pans, air handling units, condensers, coils, misting systems, and other parts of the system to avoid growth of these diseases.
6. Disgusting Food And Cheap Booze
While you may be bombarded with all you can eat buffets, the quality is usually not that great unless the cruise is privately catered. Quantity vs quality is what is prized. People seem very dissatisfied with the meals they are fed while aboard many cruise lines. Many felt that their food was too salty, overcooked and downright unhealthy. One passenger who traveled aboard Carnival Cruise line complained that the lettuce served tasted unwashed and of chemicals. The individual also expressed their opinion regarding overcooked meats stating that this was likely done to avoid contamination.
If traveling by cruise ship is still a preference, make sure to travel on a cruise line that has adopted greener procedures such as Holland America Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, or Disney Cruises. These cruise lines treat sewage properly, are working to reduce air pollution, and comply with water quality standards to ensure your vacation is contributing as little as possible to the destruction of our environment.
The non profit, Friends of the Earth offers a report card on cruise ships. Check it out here.
Katie Veras is a wellness enthusiast and environmentalist who is passionate about researching and writing. She also enjoys staying active, hiking, and traveling.
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