Tourism is typically perceived as having a positive economic impact on a region, with visitors spending money on hotels, restaurants, souvenirs and attractions. Travelers can also bring notoriety to lesser-known destinations, creating additional opportunities for future tourism.
However, this kind of growth can become a strain on a region or destination when too much tourism and too many people negatively impact the environment. Ocean reefs are one example: Many of them are dying in part due to snorkelers and divers getting too close to the coral. Meanwhile, European cities like Venice and Amsterdam face congested streets as cruise ships bring thousands of tourists to these popular destinations, leading to overcrowding and pollution.
Overtourism, and the subsequent contribution that extensive travel may have on climate change, has become an increasing concern among both consumers and industry leaders. Cruise Lines International Association, the world’s largest cruise industry association, says the number of global ocean cruise passengers increased from 17.8 million in 2009 to 26.7 million in 2017. And the number of U.S. cruise passengers alone increased from 10.4 million in 2009 to 12.4 million in 2017, according to a 2019 report by Deloitte & Touche. CLIA estimates that the total number of global cruise passengers will reach 30 million by the end of 2019.
Cruise lines, some of which have ships rivaling the size of small cities, are responding to this increased growth of tourism and many are committed to becoming more environmentally friendly. Industry experts shared with U.S. News five efforts that are and will continue to make an environmental impact both on board ships and on shore in the destinations cruise ships visit.
Exploring Changes in Power Sources
Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise company, has established 10 goals for reducing its environmental footprint through 2020.
“We have invested over a billion dollars to date and more to come in new green technologies like liquified natural gas (LNG), advanced air quality systems, shore power systems and other environmental initiatives,” says Carnival’s Chief Communications Officer Roger Frizzell. Launched in December 2018, the AIDAnova, part of AIDA cruises and Carnival Corp., is the industry’s first LNG-powered ship. Carnival Corp. has 10 additional next-generation LNG ships on order that will be delivered between 2019 and 2025. The ships will sail under the AIDA Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises and Costa Cruises fleets.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. currently has two LNG ships scheduled for delivery in 2022 and 2024. “RCCL’s 2020 environmental goals, made in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, set ambitious and measurable sustainability targets in three key areas: emission reduction, sustainable sourcing and destination stewardship,” according to Royal Caribbean’s Director, Environmental Stewardship Nick Rose.
One of the critical parts of this environmental stewardship strategy is to reduce energy consumption. “Spectrum of the Seas, for example, is 20% more energy efficient than the previous generation of ships,” Rose says.
Meanwhile, some smaller cruise companies are already powering ships with alternative fuel. “Our entire fleet runs on ultra-low sulphur marine gas oil all of the time, therefore reducing sulphur oxides emissions and carbon emission,” says Tyler Skarda, senior vice president, marine operations at Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic. “This type of fuel is the cleanest burning fuel available in the remote areas where we typically operate.” The company’s newest ships will also be fitted with the cleanest burning engines in the expedition travel industry, he adds.
Eliminating Single-Use Plastics
Many cruise lines are working toward the elimination of single-use plastics or have already achieved that goal. Lindblad put a comprehensive plan in place in 2018 to eliminate all bottles, cups, straws and stirrers fleetwide.
“The health of our planet is dependent on our oceans, and it is essential that we change our behavior with regard to plastics,” says CEO of Lindblad Expeditions Sven Lindblad, who is also an ocean advocate and founding member of Ocean Elders.
Oceania Cruises announced a partnership with Vero Water, the world’s leading provider of environmentally friendly water distillation systems, in January 2019. This green initiative is part of the company’s OceaniaNEXT enhancements as well as the comprehensive Sail & Sustain environmental program. Oceania’s six ships were outfitted with Vero Water’s still and sparkling water distillation systems in April 2019. The next step will provide guests with reusable water bottles to take ashore. Luxury line Regent Seven Seas Cruises is implementing a similar plan with Vero Water on the cruise line’s vessels. Phase one is complete for the distilled water served on board the ships. Phase two, with aluminum bottles for guests to take ashore, is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2020.
Royal Caribbean is also making the elimination of single-use plastics a priority. Rose says the company is in the process of eliminating plastics such as straws and condiment packages.
Meanwhile, one of Carnival’s luxury cruise lines, Seabourn Cruise Line, has already replaced single-use plastic bottles for all still and sparkling water for both guests and crew across its fleet. Another Carnival brand, Holland America Line, is in the process of eliminating or replacing all plastic items with recycle-friendly alternatives by the end of 2019.
Improving Food and General Waste Management
The International Maritime Organization allows ground-down food waste (1 inch or smaller) to be discharged 3 nautical miles or more from land or at 12 nautical miles or more from land for those defined as “special areas.” The rest of the waste then has to be handled either on board or ashore.
While food waste may be more challenging for larger lines to deal with, smaller cruise and expedition ships can lead the way in this area. “We carefully manage food waste by having tour guests select their dinner choices earlier in the day, so we don’t overproduce any food items causing excess waste. Guests can always make changes if they like, but this helps us keep food waste to a minimum,” says Skarda. All of the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic vessels practice reduce, reuse and recycle, where the solid waste is segregated on board, and the staff looks for opportunities to recycle whenever possible. The Endurance, Explorer and Orion ships also have incinerators on board to reduce the waste they send ashore.
According to Carnival, its shoreside waste facilities are evaluated before offloading waste from ships. Then, it is reused, recycled, incinerated or landfilled. If a recycling infrastructure is not available at a port, recycling materials are held on the ship until recycling services are available at another port.
Within Royal Caribbean’s fleet, Rose says: “Over the last 10 years we have reduced the average waste-to-landfill per guest to less than 0.5 pounds per day – and where the ports’ facilities allow, we repurpose 100% of shipboard waste.” He adds that food waste is sorted multiple times, and the final sorting is done with a mesh screen to filter out any remaining plastic pieces, especially prior to releasing any food waste at sea.
Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean executives say they are working with communities to understand the impact of cruise tourism, and they are partnering with destinations to stagger the number of visitors.
“It’s an industrywide commitment. We also realize our guests won’t enjoy the experience if the ports are overcrowded,” says Rose. “Our company is focused on making destinations and shore excursions more sustainable and offering tours certified by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s standards to our guests.”
Working on Advanced Technologies
One of Royal Caribbean’s projects is the addition of high-tech coatings for ship hulls that help reduce drag and create less friction, known as “microbubble technology.” This technological trick pumps air bubbles under the hull so the ship can glide over a “bubble carpet,” reducing drag. According to a study at the University of Bonn in Germany, these coatings can save up to 20% of fuel and ultimately lower the global carbon dioxide emissions.
And as cruise lines order, build and launch new ships, advanced technologies develop as well. “One-hundred percent of our member new builds on order are specified to have advanced wastewater systems, 44% will rely on LNG fuel for primary propulsion and 75% of non-LNG new builds will have Exhaust Gas Cleaning systems,” says Bari Golin-Blaugrund, senior director, strategic communications of CLIA. “There is also an increase in shoreside power capability around the world, where new technology enables ships to use shoreside electricity so that engines can be switched off while in port.”
Looking to the future, Carnival’s team says considering the cruising industry’s impact on the environment is key. “We have a laser focus on protecting the environment,” says Frizzell. “It’s the new normal not only for our company, but [also for] the entire maritime industry.”