Monday, July 30, 2007

Are cruise liners a viable alternative to flying?

A very interesting article on the environmental effects of Cruising from responsible

You could be forgiven for thinking you would be saving on carbon emissions by taking a cruise instead of flying. But when looking at the statistics, it is clear that the environmental impact of taking a cruise is far worse in many ways…

Gliding along from port to port, cruises take a lot longer to get to their destination(s) than flying would. But it is not just an airline seat, but almost an entire small village with swimming pools, restaurants and amenities that is floating around our oceans.

It may seem like time spent at sea would not have a lot of impact on its surrounding environments, but the facts paint a very different picture.

The stark reality is that cruise liners do have a significant ecological impact – one that has gone largely unnoticed in the global warming debate – and bring little or no benefit to the places they visit.

According to our partner at Climate Care, a cruise liner such as Queen Mary 2 emits 0.43kg of CO2 per passenger mile, compared with 0.257kg for a long-haul flight (even allowing for the further damage of emissions being produced in the upper atmosphere). That means it is far greener to fly than cruise...

According to a report by The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), worldwide, oceangoing vessels produced at least 17% of total emissions of nitrogen oxide and contributed more than a quarter of total emissions of nitrogen oxide in port cities and coastal areas.

The report also points out that carbon-dioxide emissions from the international shipping sector as a whole exceed annual total greenhouse gas emissions from most of the developed nations listed in the Kyoto Protocol. "International ships are one of the world's largest, virtually uncontrolled sources of air pollution. ..air pollution from international ships is rising virtually unchecked," said ICCT president Alan Lloyd. On a typical one-week voyage a cruise ship generates more than 50 tonnes of garbage and a million tonnes of grey (waste) water, 210,000 gallons of sewage and 35,000 gallons of oil-contaminated water.

On average, passengers on a cruise ship each account for 3.5 kilograms of rubbish daily - compared with the 0.8 kilograms each generated by local people on shore. In addition, there is significant damage to coral reefs from cruise liners. There are 109 countries with coral reefs. In 90 of them (about 70% of cruise destinations are in biodiversity hotspots) reefs are being damaged by cruise ship anchors and sewage, by tourists breaking off chunks of coral, and by commercial harvesting for sale to tourists. (Source: Ocean Planet).

Most cruise companies claim to have very good environmental standards and we have recently seen the promising arrival of the first cruise ship to reduce engine emissions by using sea water to remove harmful components, but just look at this sorry tale of environmental fines racked up by Cruise companies.

Mandatory environmental standards of the Cruise Lines International Association relate largely to discharging hazardous waste into the marine environment. The negative cultural impact of large numbers of tourists descending on, in some cases, small destinations can also be significant.

The local economic benefits of cruising are harder to assess, but certainly are limited in terms of their local purchasing of food... Of course the cruise industry is considerably smaller than the air travel industry, but anyone considering a cruise as a green alternative to flying to their destination may want to think again. Apart from the increase in CO2 emissions, there is often a need to fly to the departure points of the cruise, clocking up further carbon emissions. Add to that the waste, environmental degradation and cultural impact, and one can only begin to imagine the size of the footprint produced by taking a cruise – even if it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it would take a lot of recycling, energy saving light-bulbs and cold showers to reconcile this!

Our tips If you were considering a cruise, but feel put off by the environmental and social impact they have, it may be worth asking yourself this question: What attracted you to doing a cruise?

If it was the thought of visiting several places on one trip, there are many responsible alternatives that offer this; you can take a tour that allows you to experience the local culture at the same time, or arrange your own itinerary using local transport and ferries. Find responsible overland tours here If it was the idea of spending time on board a boat, there are many options of sailing, or spending time on board traditional boats such as a Keralan houseboat, Egyptian felucca or a Antarctic Expedition Vessel. This may be a far more interesting option than the often sterile confinements of a cruise liner. Find responsible boat cruising trips here If you liked the thought of kicking back and sipping rum with a Caribbean backdrop, there are many superb resorts that allow you to do just this, with the added benefit of allowing you to stay on after the cruise liner has long departed its shores again – giving you lots of extra time to soak up the atmosphere and really unwind away from the usual tourist traps.

All the operators Travel Light use have sound responsible travel guidelines dating back over 15 years

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