REPORT #358 August 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

Where will they be dumping the sewage???? Where will the ocean currents allow it to drift? Are there any legitimate sewage disposal facilities on their routes? Indecent Proposal: Cruise Ship Pollution in the Caribbean by Mary B. Uebersax (

August 1996
Cruise ship tourism is proclaimed by the sea trade industry to be a boon, yet for the island nations of the Caribbean Basin, the benefits of the expanding industry may be in opposition with their overall development objectives. While Caribbean tourism associations are projecting better than ever trends in cruise passenger arrivals, unsightly and hazardous pollution problems are mounting on sea floors, in harbors and in coastal areas. Meanwhile international standards for protection of the water resources and regulation of waste disposal are largely ineffective at curbing the escalating pollution problems.

Severe manifestations of these effects are now visible from the rails of cruise ships, in the water and on the shores of Caribbean islands. These trends threaten the integrity of beaches and crystal-clear waters which attract tourists--seriously depressing the economies which might have benefitted from the tourism boon. Pollution from heavy coastal development and tourism is also a major contributor to the degradation of water resources and contributes to the destruction of coral reefs--one of the most endangered ecosystems on the earth. The pollution which threatens fish populations and marine life, also contribute to public health concerns ashore. The worsening of water pollution in the Caribbean can partially be attributed to increased cruise ship traffic. Environmental concerns stemming from cruise ship waste disposal already pose an economic drain to Caribbean nations as increasing pollution levels discourage exploitation of the islands' comparative advantage--natural beauty--which translates into $7 billion annually in tourism. In summary, over-exploitation and pollution of coastal areas and water resources in the Caribbean stem from business interests, wealthy consumers, the growing number of coastal poor and governments attempts to balance conflicting development goals. This paper will argue that careful planning for "eco-development," that involves environmentally-sound parallel development initiatives, could reverse the negative effects on the sea trade expansion, improve social infrastructure and create sustained economic opportunity for struggling Caribbean economies.

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REPORT: Cruising for Trouble: Stemming the Tide of Cruise Ship Pollution
A typical cruise ship generates an estimated 210,000 gallons of sewage on a one-week voyage. Vessel sewage is more concentrated than domestic sewage because people on vessels use less volume of water for sanitary purposes than do people on land. The discharge of sewage from vessels into the water contributes to the degradation of the marine environment by introducing disease-causing microorganisms and excessive nutrients. For example, sewage releases into the marine environment can endanger public health if discharged in the vicinity of shellfish beds. Shellfish and other filter feeders concentrate pathogens in their tissues, causing them to be unsafe for human consumption. Sewage-borne pathogens are also harmful to corals, causing disease and scarring in many species.

Nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, promote excessive algal growth, which consumes oxygen in the water and leads to fish kills. Excessive algal growth also smothers and kills coral reefs. Eutrophication, or over-enrichment of nutrients, is also a cause of the loss of diversity in the sea floor community (including seaweeds, seagrasses, and corals), and among planktonic organisms. Planktonic algae are the basis of marine food webs and a change in the dominant species can have a domino effect throughout the food web.

Sewage discharged from vessels can also be visually repulsive and decreases the use of water bodies for contact sports, such as swimming, water skiing, snorkeling, scuba diving and surfing. In addition, chemicals and deodorizers used in many marine sanitation devices (MSDs) can contain chlorine, quaternary ammonia, or formaldehyde, all harmful to aquatic life.

A typical cruise ship generates an estimated 1,000,000 gallons of graywater on a one-week voyage. Graywater, or wastewater from sinks, showers, galleys and laundry, contains contaminants, such as detergents, cleaners, oil and grease, metals, pesticides, and medical and dental waste, as well as significant concentrations of priority pollutants.

Hazardous wastes generated on cruise ships include: dry cleaning sludge (which contains the listed hazardous waste perchlorethylene, or PERC), waste from photo processing laboratories and x-ray development (which contains silver, a toxic waste), paint waste and dirty solvents (which contain toluene, xylene, benzene, turpentine, methyl ethyl ketone, etc.), print shop wastes (hydrocarbons, chlorinated hydrocarbons, and heavy metals), fluorescent lamp bulbs (mercury), and batteries (lead, corrosives, cadmium), among others. PERC is a listed hazardous waste that can cause cancer and birth defects in humans, and small amounts of PERC in water have been shown to be toxic to aquatic animals, who can store the chemical in their fatty tissues. Metals, such as silver, mercury, and lead, bind to sediment and are transported to coastal waters through sedimentation. These toxic substances can cause scarring, death, or reproductive failure in fish, shellfish, and other marine organisms. In addition, they can accumulate in fish tissue, leading to fish consumption advisories. Mercury is a persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic pollutant (PBT) that can build up in the food chain to levels that are harmful to humans and ecosystem health. Benzene, a volatile organic compound (VOC), is a known human carcinogen. A typical cruise ship generates an estimated 110 gallons of photo chemicals, five gallons of dry cleaning waste (PERC), ten gallons of used paints, and five gallons of expired chemicals on a one-week voyage; volumes of other hazardous wastes are unknown. These estimates are provided by Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. line...

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Petition to tighten cruise ship pollution....
Background: Cruise ships are floating cities that produce enormous volumes of waste. Today's largest ships can transport more than 5,000 passengers and crew, and have the capacity to generate more than 11 million gallons of waste water every day, as well as carry significant amounts of hazardous chemicals from onboard printing, photo processing, and dry cleaning operations.

The cruise industry has a dismal environmental record. Since 1993, seven cruise lines have been caught and convicted for illegal dumping of oil, garbage, and hazardous wastes into US waters, and have paid more than $31 million in fines. In a particularly disturbing case, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. admitted to routinely dumping waste oil from several of its ships, and deliberately dumping hazardous chemicals from photo processing labs, dry cleaning operations and print shops into several US harbors and coastal areas, over a period of several years. The company pled guilty to a total of 21 felony counts in six US jurisdictions (Anchorage; Los Angeles; Miami; New York; St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands; and San Juan, Puerto Rico), and agreed to pay a record $18 million in criminal fines. (this is in the U.S.....think of what they are doing in the Caribbean, where there are FEWER restrictions and NO enforcement!)

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I really think we should limit cruise ships that come here to only those without photo processing, dry cleaning or toilet facilities......:-)

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