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Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary bans cruise ship wastewater discharges

Posted Nov. 22, 2011 / Posted by: Kelly Trout

Groups call on the Port of Seattle, Department of Ecology and NWCCA to extend ban to all of Puget Sound

SEATTLE, Wash. -- On December 1, Washington’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary will enact regulations banning cruise ships from discharging sewage, graywater, oily bilge and other harmful waste in waters bounded by the Sanctuary, a move that will safeguard more than 2,700 square miles of extraordinary marine resources.

The Sanctuary represents one of North America’s most productive marine ecosystems and provides habitat to a wide variety of marine species including toothed and baleen whales, seals and sea lions, sea otters and numerous fish and sea bird species. These treaty protected resources also support four federally recognized tribal governments -- Makah, Quileute, Hoh and Quinault.

Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that led the charge to successfully ban cruise ship waste discharges in all west coast sanctuaries, lauded the decision as a victory for clean water and called upon the Port of Seattle, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Northwest & Canada Cruise Association to extend the same protections to all of Puget Sound. 

“We applaud the Sanctuary for taking this step to protect the open waters of our nationally recognized coast,” said Fred Felleman, Northwest consultant for Friends of the Earth. “Now is the time to ban cruise ship pollution in Washington State’s endangered inshore marine waters in order to protect the health of the public and our region’s diverse and vulnerable marine ecosystems.”

However, the only thing protecting Puget Sound is a Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Ecology, the NWCCA and the Port of Seattle, originally signed on April 20, 2004, and which has been amended five times. Because there is no law prohibiting cruise ship wastewater discharges outside of the marine sanctuary, cruise lines using the Port of Seattle can simply seek permission to discharge at the beginning of each new cruise season. 

Friends of the Earth, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and People for Puget Sound are formally petitioning these entities to amend the MOU to include a cruise ship wastewater discharge ban in Puget Sound and the Straits. Due to a change in policy in 2010, this is the last year proposed MOU amendments will be subject to an annual review. Following this year, there will be no public opportunity to update the MOU provisions until 2015.

Cruise ship pollution is a significant threat to water resources. While treatment is required to discharge wastewater, the U.S. EPA has found that older sewage treatment systems discharge wastewater in excess of federal water quality standards.

Each large cruise ship calling at the Port of Seattle is capable of generating more than one million gallons of wastewater in a single week. The port’s 2011 cruise season was more robust than expected, with 196 cruise ships bringing 885,949 passengers through the waters of the sound between late April and early October. While none of the 14 cruise ships that call the Port of Seattle home sought permission to discharge in Puget Sound waters this past season, there are no guaranteed protections without a permanent ban.

The Department of Ecology states in its public notice, “The MOU agreement supports the broader Puget Sound Initiative -- a comprehensive effort by local, tribal, state and federal governments, business, agricultural and environmental interests, scientists, and the public to restore and protect the Sound, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca.” The proposed MOU amendment specifically supports the Action Agenda’s item C8.1: “Establish no discharge zones for commercial and recreational vessels in all or parts of Puget Sound that have nutrient and/or pathogen problems.” 

“We all must do our part, including cruise ship companies, if we are to succeed in achieving Puget Sound recovery by 2020,” said Felleman. “Cruise ships calling on Seattle have demonstrated that they can refrain from discharging wastewater while in Puget Sound. By codifying this conservation commitment through the MOU, the NWCCA can be a true partner in the region’s economic and ecological restoration,” concluded Felleman.

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Contacts: Fred Felleman, 206.595.3825, felleman@comcast.net or Marcie Keever, 415.544.0790 x 223, mkeever@foe.org

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