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Aug 032009

By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now

“Don’t let the vacation ruin the destination.”

These words of wisdom hail from environmentalists who have legitimate concerns about ocean pollution due to cruise ship dumping.

Cruise ship vacations have gained in popularity in the last decade, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which states that the industry has grown nearly twice as fast as any other means of travel during that time frame. And, at the same time, the average ship size has been growing at about 90 feet every five years. Ships used to average about 3,000 passengers, but today some carry as many as 8,000.

So with larger ships carrying more passengers, there is mounting concern about how this growth will affect the ocean’s marine life and water quality.

Recently the World Wildlife Federation’s Baltic Sea chapter recommended that area ports upgrade their facilities to cope with contamination from cruise ship sewage. The WWF said that Baltic-area ports are not keeping their facilities up-to-date in terms of disposing of cruise ship waste and suggested that the money being made by cruise ship tourism be spent upgrading the facilities, according to a report in the Environmental News Service.

“We find it unfair that so many ports are profiting from cruise line tourism but are not prepared to take care of their waste,” said Pauli Merriman, director of the WWF Baltic Ecoregion Progamme, in the ENS report.

In one week, a single average size cruise ship can generate about 200,000 gallons of sewage as well as 1 million gallons of gray water (the runoff from showers and kitchens), says Friends of the Earth Clean Vessels Campaign director Marcie Keever.

“That amounts to about 50 swimming pools-worth of polluted water,” she says.

Cleaning up pollution from cruise ships uses technology that separates the solids from the liquids and uses reverse osmosis to get rid of the pollutants. The solids get incinerated with the ashes either being dumped on land or at sea beyond 3 to 12 nautical miles. On land, the human manure can be recycled as nutrients for soil.

In the U.S., says Keever, there are no regulations for dumping sewage from vessels beyond three nautical miles from shore. Beyond three miles, cruise ships are allowed to dump raw, partially treated, or treated sewage.

As for port-side dumping, she says, “the dumping of treated sewage (using 30-year old-technology) is allowed in many ports except for states that have created no-discharge areas or agreements…. California is one of the places with anti-dumping laws, as are Alaska and Maine. Washington and Florida have voluntary agreements with the cruise industry but those agreements don’t go any further that U.S. federal requirements in most cases.”