Cruise ships pose a dilemma for the green traveler. They generate pollutants, with a large ship generating more than 200,000 gallons of human sewage and 1 million gallons of gray water a week from sinks, showers, laundry and galleys, according to Friends of the Earth. Ships can discharge the untreated raw sewage as close as three miles from shore, as well as gray water anywhere along the coast, with negative effects on reefs, especially in Florida and Jamaica. (See References 1) If your heart is set on joining one of these floating cities, look for ways to float more lightly on the Earth’s waters.
Ask the cruise operator about the vessel passenger capacity and the training of its guides, recommends Maureen Gordon of Maple Leaf Adventures, which provides sailing cruises to Alaska out of British Columbia. She also advises getting references from past cruise customers. Go small, seeking “pocket” cruises run by locally based captains on smaller ships that carry passengers in the dozens rather than the thousands, along with biologists and environmentalists. (See References 2)
Reduce your traveler's footprint if your heart is set on an ocean liner by choosing cruises offered by members of the Cruise Lines International Association (see References 4). These cruise lines have agreed to follow strict voluntary environmental standards for wastewater and recycling, according to Recyclebank, a recycling-rewards company that operates the online site GreenYour (see References 3).
Examine cruise line policies to find greener operations. With Carnival Cruises, waste is recycled, incinerated or offloaded for disposal on land. The Carnival Spirit sports a sewage and gray-water purification system, Recyclebank reports, and the Spirit and the Carnival Triumph monitor ocean water quality. Holland America ships feature low-flow toilets and showers, nontoxic dry-cleaning services, bilge water treatment and towel re-use options. (See References 3) Disney cruises divert distillate water from the air-conditioning system to wash the decks (see References 5).
Study cruise vendors for their steps to reduce fuel consumption. Disney uses a new, non-toxic hull coating to reduce surface resistance in the water and increase fuel efficiency, Melissa Paloti of Cruise Critic reports. Celebrity Cruises has added solar panels to the Celebrity Solstice and the Celebrity Equinox. (See References 5)
Ask your travel agent about cruise lines’ recycling programs. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines operates on the slogan “Nothing Goes Overboard” and has eliminated disposable plastic items such as plastic plates, flatware and shampoo bottles, while also asking vendors for minimal packaging of supplies (see Resources 2). Norwegian Cruise Line donates used cooking grease to organic farmers, and Carnival Cruise Lines ships reuse cooking oil and grease onboard as an alternative fuel. Numerous cruise lines work to recycle food, glass, cardboard, paper, metals and wood. (See References 5)
Ask your cruise line about its policy for purchasing shore-based excursions from green vendors, recommends Rich Wilson, program manager for the Coral Reef Alliance, in an interview with sustainable-development journalist G. Jeffrey MacDonald in the "Christian Science Monitor." Smaller reef-tour boats typically meet incoming cruise ships and take tourists out to explore; determine if your cruise line books such trips with operators who respect the reef and discourage feeding fish or disturbing eels and octopi. (See References 6)
- Seek out local restaurants and artisans during your shore visits; the cruise line may have arrangements with preferred vendors in port who pay for the arrangement and mark up prices, MacDonald reports (see References 6).
- Given that cruise ships are significant sources of water pollution, carbon dioxide emissions and ecosystem destruction, Recyclebank recommends choosing alternatives such as travel by land or air, staying put at a beachside resort or taking a sailing excursion (see References 3).
- Friends of the Earth: The Facts About Cruise Ships
- Maureen Gordon; Principal, Maple Leaf Adventures; Victoria, British Columbia
- GreenYour: Choose an Eco-friendly Cruise
- Cruise Ship Lines International: Technical & Regulatory
- Cruise Critic; Green Cruising; Melissa Paloti
- "The Christian Science Monitor"; Is It Possible to Take an Ecofriendly Cruise?; G. Jeffrey MacDonald; September 2007
Rogue Parrish is a writer and editor with Demand Media Studios.
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