While cruises are a luxury enjoyed by many in recent years, the negative impacts of cruise lines often go unnoticed to passengers and are ignored by the companies themselves. The cruise industry poses a threat not only to the coastal environments they disturb, but also to the economies of their destinations.
When a cruise line wants to add a destination to their array, there is a long process that must occur in order for cruise ships to be viable at these destination cities. Infrastructure, such as ports and sufficient bathroom facilities, must be built to accommodate these ships and their hundreds of passengers. For smaller destination islands, especially those in the Caribbean, this can be a difficult issue.
The islands of Bimini in the Bahamas is an area that relies on tourism for a major part of their economy. Eckerd College is no stranger to Bimini, running two trips annually to the Bimini Biological Field Station, one in January and one during spring break. The addition of a cruise line destination to the island of Bimini is increasingly being talked about.
Matt Smukall, president of the Bimini Biological Field Station, says that this is a complex issue in the area. While the increased tourism would be a positive for the economy of the small island, the environmental impacts are not being well assessed.
“There has been a lack of environmental oversight for the construction process, and at times the overall scope of the project has been much too large for the limited infrastructure of Bimini,” Smukall said.
Smukall says increased trash pollution and insufficient facilities are two additional problems that must have solutions before cruise ships become a part of Bimini. Nonetheless, Smukall believes that the increased tourism would be very beneficial to the economy of Bimini, while still keeping the environment as a top priority.
“I am hopeful that at some point in the future we will be able to balance the increased tourism, with also protecting the environment that makes Bimini a tourist destination in the first place,” Smukall said.
The arrival of the cruise ship industry to an area, in most cases, means the start of many environmental issues. In order to create a channel deep enough for these ships, these underwater sediments must be dredged. Dredging is the process of creating a channel in the ocean by the removal of sediments. As an effect of the dredging, the displaced sediments are transported to surrounding areas. When sediment is forcefully displaced from its origin it can harmfully cover other underwater habitats, disrupting the marine organisms.
The action of “dropping anchor” also negatively affects the marine environment. These heavy anchors have the ability to crush corals and disturb habitats on the ocean floor.
On occasion, cruise ships can accidentally run aground, having one of the highest impacts on the environment and destroying the coast. However, according to Visiting Professor of Marine Science Jorge Angulo-Valdes, these accidents rarely occur today due to the advanced technology on these ships.
Angulo-Valdes was born and raised in Cuba, witnessing the first cruise ships to come to Cuba around 1995, and they were few and far between. When Cuban citizens saw these cruise ships, it was something unordinary.
According to Angulo-Valdes, the true threats from these cruise ships comes in the form of socio-economic issues. Angulo-Valdes says that in Cuba, the general population did not benefit from these cruise ships coming to their country. Typically, the revenue that is generated from these cruise trips goes most directly to the cruise lines themselves, with not a lot of benefit to the locals.
“They say that it brings prosperity and a good economy for the destination but, in reality, the payments are going somewhere else,” Angulo-Valdes said.
These cruise ships also bring hundreds of tourists onto the land, meaning an increased impact from humans. The tourists could potentially pollute the area with garbage and unknowingly disrupt natural habitats.
Sophomore Cameron Larmer is the president of a club on-campus named Turning the Tide. The organization is based around ocean conservation and raises awareness of environmental issues through the use of art. The scope of Turning the Tide extends past the campus; Larmer founded Turning the Tide at the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit that took place in Sarasota, Florida in 2016.
Larmer also has a concern about cruise lines and their environmental impact. He believes that the high concentration of human activity on these smaller islands due to cruise passengers causes a massive amount of pollution. Larmer also believes that more environmental regulations should be in place for the operation of cruise lines.
“We need to ask ourselves whether it is worth the environmental costs when there are plenty of more sustainable ways to enjoy the benefits of being at sea,” Larmer said.
In recent news, cruise ships have taken a major hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel restrictions around the world have tightened, and cruise lines have since not been setting sail. This has led to a plummeting of their stock value for the time being. According to Yahoo Finance, the market high for Carnival Corporation on January 2, 2020 was 51.67. The stock price has decreased dramatically since the inflammation of the pandemic, with the market high on April 17, 2020 being 12.77. While cruise ships are laying low at the moment, they will be sure to regain popularity after the pandemic has calmed.
With issues from environmental disruption to economic value being questioned, it is apparent that underneath the facade of a global retreat lies complex issues in the cruise industry.