Friday, April 22, 2011

Let There Be Green On the Sea

Earth Day 2011 
April 22nd

How Green are Cruise Ships?

Cruise ships operate in every ocean worldwide taking thousands of passengers to all parts of the globe.   There is growing concern that these floating resorts are polluting the waterways and air with all the waste that is generated by normal operations.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently conducted a study of the impact of cruise ships and published their findings.  
Download the entire Cruise Ship Discharge Assessment Report (PDF) (162 pp, 1MB)

The Cruise Ship Discharge Assessment Report (Assessment Report) examines five primary cruise ship waste streams -- sewage, graywater, oily bilge water, solid waste, and hazardous waste. For each waste stream, the Assessment Report discusses (1) what the waste stream is and how much is generated; (2) what laws apply to the waste stream; (3) how the waste stream is managed; (4) potential environmental impacts of the waste stream; (5) on-going actions by the federal government to address the waste stream; and (6) a wide range of options and alternatives to address the waste stream from cruise ships in the future.

Cruise Ship Wastewater Discharges Fact Sheet | PDF Version (2 pp, 288K, About PDF)

The Problem: Cruise Ship Water Pollution

Cruise ships currently operate largely unregulated. They release hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage and polluted water (containing bacteria, metals, viruses and nutrients) into  our oceans and coastal waters as close as three nautical miles from shore.

Cruise Ship Environmental Report Card

Friends of the Earth’s 2nd annual Cruise Ship Report Card compares the environmental footprint of 11 major cruise lines and 113 cruise ships.  The results of this evaluation may shock you.   The best grade of all the cruise lines evaluated was a B- with the majority of the ships and cruise lines earning C's, D's, and F's.. 

The failures stem from not implementing equipment and procedures which would minimize pollution.  According to their website, the following determined the scores:

  • To determine a cruise line’s Sewage Treatment grade, we compared the number of cruise ships in the cruise line that have installed advanced sewage treatment systems against the total number of ships in the cruise line.
  • To determine the Air Pollution Reduction grade for each ship in a cruise line, only ships that dock at a North American port that currently provides shoreside power hookups were graded.
  • To determine the Water Quality Compliance grade for ships operating in Alaska, we used 2009 notices of violation issued for individual cruise ships to each cruise line by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Ships were given an ‘n/a’ if they traveled to Alaska but avoided Alaska’s strong water quality standards by discharging outside of those protected waters.
  • The grades for each of the criteria were averaged to calculate the Final Grade for each cruise line.

The Solution: The Clean Cruise Ship Act

The Clean Cruise Ship Act (S.1820/H.R.3888) will achieve landmark reductions in water-based pollution from the many cruise ships plying U.S. waters. The bill prohibits the discharge of hazardous waste, sewage sludge, and incinerator ash within all U.S. waters and prohibits the discharge of sewage, graywater, and oily bilge water within 12 nautical miles of shore. In addition, the bill establishes cruise ship water quality standards and monitoring and reporting requirements. The Clean Cruise Ship Act is a substantial but feasible change from the currently under-regulated state of the cruise industry and will help to protect America’s coastlines, food supply, and beautiful natural resources from pollution.

Protect the Environment for Future Generations

Most people that love to cruise also have an interest in protecting the environment for the future.   We want to continue our quest to see more of the world, but at the same time, want to make sure Mother Earth is around for generations to come.  So, what can we as individuals do?

The FOE suggests letting Congress know that we want them to support the Clean Cruise Ship Act.  For those that are interested (click the following links):  Tell Congress to Cleanup the Cruise Industry.    Learn more about the FOE.

Is There Any Good News in the Report Card?

I have to admit that my initial reaction to the report card was one of shock.   The majority of the cruise lines have announced initiatives to protect the environment.   You'll see signs posted in your cabin encouraging you to reuse towels, just like you see in hotel rooms on land.   I have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they do intend to turn things around.  

Of the eleven cruise lines that were evaluated, only two had lower scores in the most recent report card.  Six lines remained the same, two improved and the last one wasn't rated previously.  Perhaps with regulation, there can be additional improvement over time. 

When on a cruise ship, do your part by doing the little things:   reuse your towel,  don't throw anything overboard, or pollute in any other way.

We share this information, not to make any cruise line look bad, but rather to call awareness to a growing problem which can seriously impact all living things if left unchecked.  Thank you for reading this article and for doing your part to protect the environment.

Special thanks to the EPA and FOE for their efforts and for publishing the information which was the basis of this article.

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