Over the past decades, cruise ships have increased in size, volume of passengers, and number of ports This has caused a growing debate about the environmental impacts on the oceans, coral reefs, beaches, and coastal communities, as well as other social and economic impacts on affected communities and regions.
Martha Honey, Executive Director of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) asks, in EcoCurrents magazine, "can cruise line tourism bring sustainable development to poor coastal and island communities?" Some parts of Mexico's Yucatan coast receive a million cruise ship visitors in a three year period, with their impact focused near the cruise ship pier and limited benefits even a short distance away from the tourism centre.
An official of the ICCL, a cruise industry association, notes, "Cruise ships make up less than one percent of the world's oceangoing vessels, but lead the maritime industry in finding new technologies and procedures to minimize environmental impacts." Cruise ships are voluntarily adopting stringent waste management practices and procedures, reducing both solid wastes (now burned to supplement the ship's power), filtering of airborne pollution from engines and boilers, and reduced liquid wastes with sewage and other fluids treated to mainland standards before being returned to the sea. Other ships store their waste for transfer to shore-based treatment or disposal facilities at appropriately equipped ports.
Some environmental critics of the cruise ship industry argue that the rapid expansion of the size and number of cruise ships urgently requires strict enforcement of existing regulations, as well as new legislation prohibiting dumping within 12 miles of the coast, and installation of advanced treatment equipment on all vessels.
Not all cruise vessels have adopted the voluntary standards, so consumers may consider alternatives to the large floating cities of major cruise lines, including several smaller companies operating small cruise vessels that have adopted a range of socially and environmentally responsible practices.
Additional resource on the impacts of the cruise industry: