The Charleston City Paper has an interesting headline this morning – "Are Cruise Ship Harmless Fun Or An Environmental Scourge?"
The article raises the issue of how South Carolina will face its future as a state with a major cruise port. Unlike progressive states like Alaska, California and Maine which regulate waste water discharges, the state of South Carolina has no state regulations relating to the cruise industry. This leaves the cruise lines subject to only lax international regulations, which have not been updated for a long time and which the cruise lines have routinely violated anyway.
What’s remarkable about the article is that it reveals that cruise lines can legally dump garbage and untreated sewage overboard when the ships are at least three miles offshore.
Although the cruise industry claims that it dumps untreated sewage ("blackwater") only 12 miles from shore, the effects of the human waste from thousands of passengers and crew are disastrous. The waste dumped by cruise ships into the water contains bacteria, pathogens, disease, intestinal parasites, pharmaceuticals, nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous and – whenever there is a norovirus outbreak – gallons and gallons of infected feces which, in turn, are consumed by fish and filter-fed by shellfish.
We have touched upon dumping feces just 12 miles off the coast of South Carolina before – "Can Sick Cruise Ships Cause Norovirus Outbreaks in Ports?"
You can carefully read all of the press releases and letters to the editors by the cruise industry, but nowhere will you see a strict commitment from cruise lines not to dump untreated sewage. This is not only gross, but its an unnecessary hazard to the health of humans, marine life and coral systems wherever cruise ships sail. As pointed out by the non-profit organization Friends of the Earth:
"The contaminants in human waste and wastewater – known as blackwater or sewage – pose a risk to public health not only through the food supply, as fisheries and shellfish beds can be contaminated, but also through direct contamination of water ingested by surfers, beachgoers, and water-sport enthusiasts. In addition, blackwater contains nitrogen and phosphorus that promote excessive algal growth, which in turn consumes oxygen in the water and can lead to fish kills and the destruction of other aquatic life, including coral . . ."
Is cruising fun? Is it harmful to the environment? Yes, to both questions.
That’s why South Carolina would be smart to protect its waters and its people from the scourge of cruise pollution and adopt wastewater regulations similar to those enacted in Alaska.
For additional information, consider reading: "Cruise Ships In Charleston."
Photograph Coastal Conversation League