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Magazine — 30.03.21

Cruises: Floating Cities Dumping Their Waste With Paradise

In 2018, 26 million people boarded a passenger cruise ship representing an unregulated industry that had generated $117 million USD in 2017. These floating cities have always been environmentally questionable, goliaths moving through vulnerable ecosystems.

Friends of the Earth’s annual cruise ship report card’s highest mark for 2020 is a B-, given to Disney Cruises, which notes the ineffective international laws on maritime industries. These monoliths, moving slowly through thousands of kilometres of ocean, take the populations of small-towns across the waters. New Caledonia, an island nation in the Pacific, depends largely on tourism economically, but as the vulnerable ecosystem falls victim to the changing climate, worries arise about the future of the region and how a sustainable future can be found without passenger ships.

This is not an issue unique to New Caledonia, in 2013 Princess Cruises used ‘magic pipes’ to discharge an oily dump off the coast of England, and was later fined $40 million USD in 2018 for deliberate pollution. The pollution in Marseilles, on the south coast of France, can attribute 10% of its pollution to cruise ships, and thousands die prematurely due to this pollution. Though only 15% of illegal dumping is intentional, a great portion of the pollution is simply necessary for these enormous ships to move through the waters. Each passenger’s carbon footprint increases by three times compared to if they were on land. For a region like New Caledonia, largely reliant on the economic benefits of cruise tourism, the environmental consequences are enormous.

New Caledonia is an island, a lush garden of Eden isolated from much of the world, yet it bears the brunt of many of the consequences of luxury cruise lines that glide through its waters.

The environmental impacts of cruise ships are enormous, these moving cities produce the same waste, sewage, greywater, etc. as on land, with nowhere to treat them, whilst also producing the waste generated by moving these beasts, the oil and air pollutants ‘if not properly treated and disposed of, can be a significant source of pathogens, and toxic substances with the potential to threaten human health and damage aquatic life.’ It is the factor of ongoing exposure that largely affects these island paradises, hotspots to tourists, who are consistently accommodating these ships. It is this concentration of exposure to the harmful pollutants that culminates in greater risks.

This is similarly faced by other cruise ship hotspots; the south of France, the Mediterranean, Alaska and Florida all are overexposed to the harms. Passengers, who are often blissfully unaware of the damage these ships cause, highlights both the issue of uninformed consumerism and a system dependent on the exploitation of others. Yet repairing this is more difficult than presumed, simply holding onto waste until reaching the port is ineffective, and these monolithic ships are too big to power with the means we see elsewhere.

As we move towards a cleaner, more sustainable future post-COVID when responsible tourism resumes, what are the options for the cruise industry? The power needed to move these ships is astronomical, and thus powering with renewable resources is a far way off. While some cruise lines claim to be clean, the nature of this industry means clean cruises do not yet exist. In saying this, as sustainability becomes an increasingly hot topic in tourism, companies are taking note and listening to where the money will be in the next few years.

Some cruise lines are moving towards liquified natural gas, which is a cleaner fossil fuel, and others are focusing on buying locally and ensuring their waste is dealt with responsibly. Yet neither of these puts the industry in a progressive, or on par status with other parts of the tourism industry, and these companies have a long way to go before they can be considered environmentally responsible.

The other buzzword in sustainable cruises is scrubbers, a way of somewhat detoxing waste before it is discarded. It uses seawater to reduce the sulphur oxide and carbon emissions from the bunker fuel. This has become an effective way of cruise lines avoiding any consequences when irresponsibly dumping waste. This superficial action, which does little more than act as an alibi for the companies when pressed about their environmental policies, is becoming more and more popular in the industry.

Cruises are a long way from being a sustainable form of travel, these beasts that float from paradise to paradise bring with them tidal waves of environmental damage. A reckoning to the inhabitants of the tourist hotspots they frequent – and it is these island paradises that bear the brunt of their harm.

Issy Golding is a Sydney based writer, journalist and caramel slice enthusiast. She writes mainly on Australian politics, gender issues and surrealist poetry. She loves hanging out with her dogs by the beach and walking through independent bookstores.


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