To Cruise or not to Cruise?
To Cruise or not to Cruise?
I have always dreamt of visiting Alaska. Who hasn’t? Lush temperate rainforests, rich feeding grounds for the iconic humpback whale and some of the world’s most epic tidewater glaciers – true wilderness. However, I was not going in a kayak, nor by foot… I was going on a 1200ft long all-inclusive all singing and dancing floating hotel. Yep, I was on my way to a two-week cruise travelling through the inside passage of South East Alaska.
I have been on Celebrity cruise ships before as a naturalist on board to destinations including Australia, New Zealand, Central and South America. For this trip, I was invited by my good friend Chelsea who is also a naturalist on board the ship. We both have a real passion for exploring the wilderness and learning about its array of wildlife. However, even before going on my first cruise, I was apprehensive of how environmentally friendly this way of travel really is.
So the question is, how eco-friendly is a cruise to remote and pristine destinations such as South East Alaska? Who is the best to cruise with? What can be done to reduce your carbon footprint when travelling?
Cruises get a pretty bad rep but then again, the industry seems to pay little attention to the natural resources that quite literally fuel its success. Research from Tourism Concern shows that old cruise vessels are responsible for about three and a half times more than a long-haul flight. Furthermore, the irony is that most people take flights in order to join a cruise. So surely you’re already powering through an exhaustive amount of emissions before you have even gone on holiday! But the overall issue of impact is not limited to carbon emissions, unfortunately one of the biggest issues is food waste. Tricia Barnett from director of Tourism Concern says having an all-inclusive holiday just for one ship supposedly generates 50 tonnes of rubbish. So an all you can eat all-inclusive buffet found on most cruises now, on a typical one week voyage go through one million tonnes of grey (waste) water, 210,000 gallons of sewage and 35,000 gallons of oil.
These stark statistics are not new to our understanding of the effect of cruising, however, the truth is this industry is becoming bigger and more popular year on year and more cruise vessels can be seen sailing into the heart of some of the wildest destinations across the planet. The inside passage of South East Alaska is a truly wild destination. Stunning scenery and a myriad of charismatic species including humpback whales, transient and resident orca, bald eagles filling the skies and black bears wandering through the temperate rainforests. The truth is, a huge cruise ship vessel in this environment stands out like a sore thumb but despite the bad rep, there are signs of positive change.
There seems to be a real push on what is known as ‘green cruising’ and cruise companies appear to be making important strides to improve their environmental policies. In developing new vessels, companies can utilise newer technology to help reduce their environmental impact. This may mean trying to reduce air pollution by using cleaner fuel or installing technology that reduces the sulphur content in emissions. In 2020 a Japanese NGO will launch a cruise vessel called the Peace Boat, a sustainable cruise liner featuring solar-panel sails. Royal Caribbean Cruises will be introducing its first fleet of ships in 2022 which will invest in fuel cell technology converting chemicals into electricity. Finally, the cruise company Hurtigruten has ordered a pair of hybrid powered cruise ships which will be powered using a battery system only! Technology is allowing the cruising industry to take environmental impact seriously. However, I would still like to see more pressure on companies to improve their policies with new cruises. Today, the standards for the shipping industry are still too low and better regulation is needed on emissions and on waste. While there is hope for a cleaner future, it would seem that the industry is still too far behind on caring about emissions on open water.Cruising is one of the world’s leading tourism industries, so it cannot be denied that people enjoy the cruise way of life. For me, I cannot deny some of the benefits that travelling in this way brings. But the important thing to bear in mind is how we cruise.
One obvious benefit to cruising is the opportunity to pretty much avoid single use plastic water bottles. When going travelling, more often than not you have little choice other than to buy bottled water – particularly in foreign countries. On cruises your plastic consumption is reduced to basically zero and some cruises are even starting to phase out plastic straws too.
Sometimes, in wild and remote destinations such as Antarctica or Alaska, travelling on the water is simply the best way to see wildlife. People can sit outside on a balcony to watch for cetaceans or sea birds or watch far flung islands through a pair of binoculars as they move leisurely by. This for me, is how I would spent 90% of my time on a cruise boat and is a huge benefit of cruising when trying to connect passengers to the natural world around them. Cruising also provides the opportunity for a whole new audience access to some of the world’s wildest locations that they would never dream of visiting. I have always tried to inspire the uninspired about nature, to grab the interest of the most unlikely of tourists and get them to pay attention to the important habitats and wildlife around them. Never has this been more rewarding or impactful than on a cruise. The cruise offers people the opportunity to travel across the world with ease and comfort while still being exposed to extreme environments.
My top tips for cruising
If you are thinking about going on a cruise I would suggest doing the following:
Do your research. Get a better understanding of the company you are cruising with and look at their policies and history of environmental impact. It may be a little more expensive but try not to just focus on the larger cruise companies because more often than not the bigger the vessel to larger the negative impact.
Explore other options. Why are you cruising? Do you really need to? Exhaust other options too. While it may be more hassle, you actually will have a totally different experience of the location – tasting local food, integrating with the culture and going at your own pace. Don’t knock it before you’ve tried it and embrace the ‘hassle’ as part of the journey.
Be conscious and put pressure on your cruise company by booking through Eco Companion. If you are going on a cruise ask them to better their policies, ban plastic straws or better manage their waste. Simply by booking your cruise through Eco Companion’s eco experts itself delivers pressure to each cruise liner as it sends a message on what you care about! I have seen what public pressure can do first hand after customers on board a Celebrity cruise applied pressure on the company to ban plastic straws. They will officially be banned as of 2020. Public pressure is really important in making change and at the end of the day these environmental impacts will be affecting you too so be conscious.
So yes: there are many positives and negative to cruising. I would say the footprint left by cruise ships around the world is still too heavy and leaves me feeling unsettled about the long-term effect of this growing industry. But change is happening and there are alternative ways to cruise while being environmentally aware. To help you, we are really excited to have an eco Alaska cruise up on the site. It’s all about small boats, personal experience, and getting close to nature!