Among this year’s Super Bowl commercials intended to pull at our heartstrings was a spot for Carnival Cruise Lines. Over images of seascape sunsets, SCUBA divers, and standup paddleboarding came President John F. Kennedy’s unmistakable Hyannisport accent invoking humankind’s biological and spiritual connection to the sea.
Unfortunately, the negative environmental ramifications of cruises don’t exactly contribute to the pristine marine waters portrayed by Carnival’s commercial. In reality, the cruise industry, patronized by over 10 million US passengers every year, is a major ocean polluter, producing massive quantities of pollution in the form of air emissions and wastewater, much of which is simply dumped at sea with limited treatment.
Commercial vessels such as cruise ships are allowed to dump sewage and bilge water, which is often laden with oil or grease at any location beyond 3 miles from shore; and they can discharge gray water—wastewater from laundry, sinks, and showers—virtually without limitation. These effluents contain contaminants that threaten sea life and marine ecosystems.
Industry-wide, cruise ships dump one billion gallons annually. And Carnival brought home an overall grade of D on Friends of the Earth’s 2014 Cruise Ship Report Card for environmental footprint, including Fs for sewage treatment and transparency of environmental practices.
To be fair, Carnival may not be all bad. It did receive an A for compliance with water quality standards for its cruise ships operating in Alaska. And a decision to upgrade its North American ships with exhaust-filtering technology will significantly cut Carnival’s air pollution, earning the company the New Economy’s Clean Tech Award for Best Marine Solutions in January 2014.
In the bigger picture, however, the majesty of our oceans, from which Carnival and other cruise lines take their profits, can only be maintained with responsible stewardship. If the cruise industry and its partners whose businesses rely on healthy marine ecosystems don’t start paying more attention to the long-term health of the world’s oceans, they may soon find a stark decline in demand for their services.
This post was written by Elise Shulman, Communications Associate at Oceans at the Center for American Progress.