Cruise Ship Pollution in the Caribbean Coast


Cruise ships are plush attractions in coastal tourism. Tourists indulge in extravagant cruising to enjoy the  splendour of the sea to the fullest while they take pleasure in all the luxuries their cruise ships offer. The Caribbean has surpassed the other coastal tourism areas to claim the highest density of ocean cruises. However, unwarranted exploitation of coastal areas and water resources is causing deleterious effects on the coastal environment of the Caribbean. This in turn is imposing a negative impact on the Caribbean economy which depends a lot on the tourism industry.

Cruise ships are found to dispose of untreated chemicals, oil, and solid waste in the sea; causing threats to the marine biota during the process. It is estimated that every passenger in a cruise ship is responsible for 1 kg of burnable waste and 5 kg of food waste every day. The pollution caused by large ships is even more disturbing. The largest ships with a capacity of 5000 people generate a whooping figure of over 11 million gallons of waste per day!

The waste water containing the perilous compounds, is carried by the strong sea currents throughout the Caribbean, much to our dismay. The harmful chemicals like detergents, oil grease, metals, and pesticides in sewage and waste water which are produced due to several sanitary purposes are found to result in massive degradation of aquatic life. The discharge of excess chemicals through sewage facilitates lead to the growth of harmful pathogens within fishes and coral reefs alike, ultimately leading to their death. The marine environment witnesses a loss of diversity in the sea floor community and among planktons, thus disrupting the foundation of food web in sea.

Toxic wastes from paint, photo processing and print shops accumulate within the fish tissues and causes several physiological failure in fish that might ultimately lead to death. Even humans are not spared from the detrimental consequences while we eat the sea foods enjoy activities in sea.

Perchlorethylene (PERC), a hazardous waste can cause birth defects and cancer in humans while 18- benzene is a notable carcinogen. Apart from chemicals solid wastes like plastic, wood, cans, glass, etc float on the water surface and entangles the marine animals, leading to their death. The fuel, oil and gasoline from vessel leakage in cruise ships are another range of menace for the marine life.

Coral reefs, picturesque beaches, rich marine milieu, and crystal clear water are some of  the main attractions for tourists to visit Caribbean Islands. However, the current look of nature in the islands is pretty distressing due to uncontrolled waste disposal by cruise ships. The coral reefs and coastal mangroves are rapidly decreasing in numbers. The Caribbean water has lost its purity and has become a dumping ground of plastics and degraded waste. The biodiversity of the islands is also at stake. These realities have caused major setbacks in the enhancement of the tourism industry and more people are turning away from the Caribbean, ultimately emaciating the nation’s economy.

The steady decline of tourism in the Caribbean has become a huge concern for the government. Several environmental organizations, government bodies and even some cruise ship companies are making efforts to get over this rising environmental dilemma. The U.N.'s international Maritime Organization banned dumping in 1993. Oceana’s 'Stop Cruise Pollution' campaign established in 2003, has convinced Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, the 2nd largest cruise company in the world, to install advanced waste water treatment technology on its ships to decrease the damaging effects of their waste.

The awareness has brought forth active testing of products with the aim of making the cruising industry environmentally friendly. However, it has been observed that Caribbean governments have remained ignorant to this crisis in some aspects. For example, it fails to act in accordance with the protocols set forth by MARPOL to restrict waste dumping by cruise lines. Hence, a combined effort of the government, environmentalists and international organization is desirable to find a solution to this problem.

Liya Das (The Caribbean Current)



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