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Smooth Sailing Ahead for Cruise Industry and Conservation
Erika Kranz, Staff Writer

June 2006: Without responsible practices, the cruise industry has the potential to harm marine ecosystems around the globe through wastewater discharge and by transporting large numbers of people to sensitive destinations. Through their partnership with Conservation International (CI), however, some of the industry's new voluntary measures are proving that many cruise lines are committed to making ocean holidays conservation-friendly.

Mapping Initiative a Positive Step for Biodiversity
Showing that conservation and tourism can go hand in hand, CI and the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) recently announced plans to develop a global map to guide cruise ship wastewater discharge, helping ship operators steer clear of especially sensitive areas. Since CI and the ICCL began working together through the Ocean Conservation and Tourism Alliance (OCTA) in 2003, there has been much emphasis on establishing best practices for wastewater management to minimize the impacts of cruise ship operations on sensitive marine ecosystems. The OCTA convened a seven-member panel of leading marine experts to provide recommendations on how to improve the cruise industry's wastewater practices.

In March 2006, the panel released 11 recommendations on best practices for handling wastewater including the creation of a global map of areas where discharges should be avoided. Shallow waters, coral reefs, seamounts, shellfish growing areas, and marine protected areas are particularly sensitive and are not currently shown on navigation charts. CI and the ICCL will identify these areas, focusing first on the high-traffic regions most at risk. The establishment of new no-discharge zones will come in addition to the steps ICCL members currently take to protect marine environments, such as avoiding discharge within four miles of shore unless the ship is equipped with an advanced wastewater purification system.

The ultimate goal of the mapping initiative would be the inclusion of these no-discharge zones on navigational maps used not only by the 16 cruise lines represented in the ICCL, but by all large ships.

Toxic effluent threatens marine habitats, impacts human health and economies by contaminating of shellfish, and contributes to such large-scale problems as eutrophication, a process in which marine environments become depleted of oxygen due to excessive nutrients.

While wastewater discharge is only one source of marine pollution among many, the ICCL's support of this initiative and quick willingness to implement many of the panel's recommendations is something to celebrate. Says Sylvia Earle executive director of CI's global marine program and chair of the OCTA, "Healthy oceans are critical for the planet's health, and the cruise industry is to be commended for its support of this ambitious mapping exercise to protect marine biodiversity."

Successes in Cruise Destination Conservation
CI has also produced a new report showing how the industry's major companies are taking steps to ensure a sustainable future for cruise-based tourism by protecting environmentally sensitive destinations. Because cruise ships often transport large numbers of people to vulnerable natural areas, they have the potential to impact not just the marine environments through which they travel, but also the environments passengers visit on land. Impacts upon cruise destinations may be the most negative effect the cruise industry has on biodiversity. The new report, "From Ship to Shore: Sustainable Stewardship in Cruise Destinations," recognizes that these threats have not gone unnoticed, and highlights many of the steps partners have taken to minimize their impact.

Positive actions taken by the industry and partners range from cruise lines installing onboard scientific laboratories, to a community-based initiative in St. Lucia that encourages tourists to visit natural and historical sites and purchase local handicrafts and indigenous cuisine. Onshore businesses such as an electric submarine tour operator are also promoting non-invasive ways for tourists to explore marine ecosystems. Of the top 30 cruise destinations in the world, 20 are located in the Mediterranean Basin or Caribbean Islands biodiversity hotspots – both of which are home to unique and threatened species that could be impacted by this growing industry.

Says CI President Russell Mittermeier: "Although cruise tourism has the potential to overwhelm fragile destinations if not managed effectively, the industry is also a great potential ally for conservation, because many passengers are attracted by the opportunity to experience new places and cultures."

Related Links:
> Feature Story: Deep Sea Bottom Trawling
> Feature Story: The Net Loss of Overfishing
> Feature Story: Kiribati Safeguards Entire Coral Archipelago
> Feature Story: CI Backs Island Community's Conservation Efforts
> Frontlines: Tsunami Survivors Replant, Rebuild, and Restore
> CI: Priority Areas: Key Marine Regions
> CELB: Travel & Leisure Programs: Cruises
> CELB: Partners: International Council of Cruise Lines
> CELB: "From Ship to Shore" Report Details How Cruise Industry is Serving its Passengers while Protecting the Precious Places it Visits
> Web: ICCL Web site


© CI, Russell A. Mittermeier
Without responsible practices, the cruise industry has the potential to harm marine ecosystems around the globe.

© Roger Steene
Coral reefs are particularly sensitive to wastewater and other ecological threats.

© CI
CI's new report recognizes the importance of protecting environmentally sensitive destinations. Click here to download the report.

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