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Why Cruises Are The Worst: The Environmental Impact of Cruise Ships

The Environmental Impact of Cruise Ships

As an environmentalist there is one type of vacation you will never catch me on... and that is a cruise. While there is certainly a cost to every type of vacation cruises are without a doubt the most offensive to mother nature. And honestly there are so many better ways to travel...if you can even call floating around on a giant resort traveling?

Let's get into why the environmental impact of cruise ships makes them the least eco friendly form of travel.

Carbon Emissions:

Let's start with the staggering carbon emissions associated with cruise travel. The average cruise produces about 0.43kg carbon emissions per passenger per mile and the average 7 day cruise across the Caribbean covers about 1400 miles holding 3,000 passengers. That means your average cruise emits around 2,000 tons of carbon emissions in one week on one voyage. That's over 3x more emissions than flying and the weight of an entire space ship. These emissions contribute significantly to climate change, exacerbating global warming and its associated impacts on ecosystems and communities worldwide. Not to mention the other type of emissions that aren't even included in those calculations: black carbon. Black carbon is a soot-like substance produced by cruise ships & other large shipping vessels that absorbs sunlight and traps heat on the ground. Though cruise ships only account for around 1% of the global fleet, they’re responsible for 6% of black carbon emissions.

The cruising industry are trying to make more sustainable choices but not to much effect. The latest trend in the cruising world is switching to LNG (liquified natural gas) which is supposed to reduce those carbon emissions by 25%. This is an improvement however LNG is still a carbon emitting fossil fuel and is actually quite inefficient due to the high amounts of methane that leak from LNG powered ships 24/7 (read more about that here). At the end of the day - cruising simply cannot be sustainable until renewable sources of fuel can be used to power the ships due to the extremely high energy requirements and carbon emissions.

But that's not the only issue when it comes to going on a cruise. Even if they were renewably powered they're still massive sources of pollution and disruption to delicate marine eco systems.

Air and Water Pollution:

In addition to carbon emissions, cruise ships also contribute to air and water pollution. The combustion of fossil fuels releases pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter into the atmosphere, compromising air quality and posing health risks to both passengers and coastal communities. Moreover, cruise ships discharge untreated sewage, wastewater, and chemicals into the ocean, contaminating marine habitats and endangering aquatic life.

Waste Management Issues:

Managing waste on cruise ships presents a significant challenge, with large volumes of trash generated daily from onboard activities, dining, and entertainment. Despite efforts to implement waste management systems, cruise ships often struggle to properly handle and dispose of their waste, leading to pollution of oceans and coastal areas. Plastic waste, in particular, poses a pervasive threat to marine ecosystems, with marine animals ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic debris.

Impact on Marine Animals:

Cruise ships pose risks to marine animals through collisions and noise pollution. The sheer size and volume of cruise vessels increase the likelihood of collisions with marine mammals such as whales and manatees, resulting in injury or death. Furthermore, underwater noise generated by cruise ships can disrupt the communication, navigation, and feeding behaviors of marine animals, compromising their survival and disrupting marine ecosystems.

I get it, going on a cruise can seem like a fun and easy way to travel for many Americans. But once you know the true cost it likely wont' seem as attractive. The fact is that there is a significant environmental impact associated with this form of travel. From carbon emissions and air and water pollution to waste management issues, energy consumption, and impact on marine animals, the environmental toll of cruising cannot be ignored. To me, the potential benefits of going on a cruise just don't outweigh the environmental cost. There are so many better options to travel more sustainably. and to be honest I don't even consider cruising to be a real form of 'travel'. As consumers, travelers, and stewards of the planet, we always have a choice whether to support damaging industries like this or to use our voice and our dollars to advocate for change by spending our time and money elsewhere. This is how we create change. By learning, evolving, and making better choices each and every day so that we can work towards a more sustainable future for cruise tourism and protect the health of our oceans and planet for generations to come.


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