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The facts about cruise ships

Posted Nov. 3, 2008 / Posted by: RConnors

Cruise ships generate vast quantities of waste

Cruise ships generate hundreds of thousands of gallons of human sewage and offer a host of amenities that create pollutants, including dry-cleaning, pools, hair salons, restaurants, photo processing, and spas.

In one week alone, a large cruise ship generates approximately:

  • 210,000 gallons of human sewage,
  • 1 million gallons of gray water (water from sinks, baths, showers, laundry, and galleys),
  • 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water,
  • Up to 11,550 gallons of sewage sludge, and
  • More than 130 gallons of hazardous wastes.

In an EPA survey of 29 ships traveling in Alaskan waters, average reported sewage generation rates ranged from 1,000 to 74,000 gallons per day per vessel with the average amount of sewage generated being 21,000 gallons per day per vessel.

Negative impacts of cruise ship waste

  • Contamination of shellfish beds and seafood: "Sewage contamination in swimming areas and shellfish beds poses potential risks to human health and the environment by increasing the rate of waterborne illnesses." (EPA Draft Cruise Ship Discharge Assessment Report)
  • Beach Closings: In 2006, there were more than 25,000 days of closings and advisories at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches, most due to the presence of bacteria associated with fecal contamination.
  • Threatening Pristine Ecosystems: Two major cruise ship destinations, Jamaica and Florida are important examples of how dumping waste into our waters causes extreme loss to marine biodiversity. In 2002, only five percent of the reefs around Jamaica supported living coral compared with 60 percent 10 years earlier and in 2002, about 90 percent of Florida's coral reefs were believed to be dead or dying.

Cruise ship waste needs regulation

Cruise ships can currently freely discharge untreated raw sewage as close as 3 miles from shore near beaches, recreational areas, and shellfish beds, and can discharge highly contaminated graywater anywhere along the coast.

These discharges can and do occur near shellfish beds, beaches, and in pristine marine ecosystems valued for their beauty and marine life.

Recommendations for fixing the problem generally

"Congress should enact legislation that regulates wastewater discharges from cruise ships under the Clean Water Act…" (Pew Oceans Commission Report)

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