Are Cruise Ships Drastically Affecting The Environment?

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

While cruise vacations can be fun for the whole family, many marine specialists, maritime lawyers and other critics are beginning to wonder whether there is a downside. Over 230 cruise ships operate worldwide, offering shore excursions to private islands and regions where marine life exploration is a main focus. With so much traffic on the high seas, many fear that vessels are hurting the environment by traveling back and forth along the same routes.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and activist groups like Bluewater Network, cruise lines produce an exorbitant amount of sewage, garbage, wastewater from sinks, showers, laundries and kitchens and other waste products, which all get discharged into the sea, posing a threat to ecosystems, marine life and even beach-goers.

The EPA noted that a cruise ship carrying 3,000 passengers can generate 210,000 gallons of waste and sewage and 1 million gallons of gray water from showers and drains in just one week. And with the recent Friends of the Earth 2012 Cruise Ship Report Card that was issued, not very many lines make the cut when it comes to passing the environmentally friendly section.

This year, the group gave out its first “A” grade to Disney Cruise Line. The company received an overall grade of “A-minus” after winning the “most improved” category this year once again. All four Disney ships have advanced sewage treatment systems and several other environmentally-friendly innovations that limit their impact on marine ecosystems.

However, cruise giant Carnival Cruise Lines, which boasts the largest fleet of cruise vessels in the world with 24 ships, received a “D-plus” grade, after improving from an “F” in 2010. One reason for the low grade is because most vessels in the Carnival fleet use an outdated marine sanitation device developed in the 1970s. Newer systems known as Advanced Sewage Treatment Systems have a greater number of filters and help remove pollutants, but are also more expensive. However, a price tag cannot be placed on the preservation of the environment. Friends of the Earth is now asking the EPA to pass strong regulations on sewage treatment to minimize the environmental footprint left behind by cruise lines.

The group is urging cruise lines to improve their wastewater treatment systems to produce cleaner water, adopt more energy efficient measures, such as switching to low energy LED lights, developing smoother hull coatings to consume less fuel, using recycled hot water to heat passenger cabins, among other improvements. Recycling programs will also help reduce waste produced by cruise lines. If all cruise lines were to employ better environmental protection methods, the risk of damaging the ecosystem would drastically diminish.