Cruise ships can produce more carbon dioxide than 12,000 cars, scientists warn

EXETER, England — Cruises should be curbed until they undergo massive environmental regulations, after it was discovered just one ship can produce more carbon dioxide than 12,000 cars, scientists say. The ships can also produce a ton of waste daily and researchers estimate that a week-long arctic cruise produces the same amount of carbon as the average person does in a year.

Before the global pandemic, cruises were one for the fastest growing industries in tourism. Their surge in popularity could resume given governments are beginning to lift international travel restrictions. But this is not good news for the environment and people working in the industry, the team of international researchers conclude.

“Our paper highlights that cruising is a prime example of how the fates of our health and our environments are intertwined,” says first author Dr. Josep Lloret, at the University of Girona in Spain, in a statement. “Up until now, most studies have looked at aspects of this in isolation.”

Cruise ships ’cause major impacts on environment and human health’

In 2018, there were 314 cruise ships worldwide, capable of carrying more than half a million people. Evidence from more than 200 research papers on the impact of cruise ships on human health and natural environments around the world was studied by the researchers.

Six of the studies examined the industry’s contribution to global warming through carbon dioxide emissions (CO2). They conclude the carbon footprint of just one large cruise ship can be greater than 12,000 cars.

Cruises and ferries in the Mediterranean, one of the most popular tourist destinations, were responsible for an estimated 10 percent of all ship CO2 emissions, the researchers also show. A 2007 study concluded cruise ships headed for New Zealand were three times more polluting than planes.

Likewise, spending the night on a cruise ship costs 12 times more energy than staying in a hotel on land.

“Cruise tourism was rapidly expanding pre COVID-19, and our research shows it causes major impacts on the environment and on human health and wellbeing,” says co-author Professor Lora Fleming, at the University of Exeter. “We need much better monitoring to generate more robust data for the true picture of these impacts.”

Cruise waste a major problem

The studies also examined the impact of solid waste disposal on the environment. A cruise ship carrying 2,700 passengers can produce more than a ton of garbage per day, according to the researchers’ findings. This explains why they account for an estimated 24 percent of the total waste produced by the shipping industry.

“Without new and strictly enforced national and international standardized rules, the cruise industry is likely to continue causing these serious health and environmental hazards,” says Fleming.

Figures suggest most of the waste (75 percent) produced by ships docking at the Port of Southampton in England in August 2005 was incinerated and disposed of at sea. However, there were also several reports of illegal waste disposal in the port at the time.

“When environmental standards between cruisers and land-based polluters are compared, it becomes clear that there is a lot of room for improvement,” explains Dr Hrvoje Carić, of the Institute for Tourism in Croatia. “We’ve long known that cruise ships cause damage to the environment, however it’s hugely important to incorporate the impact on human health into that picture. We hope that research like this will prompt action to help cruise industry become more environmentally sustainable.”

The research also suggests cruise ships are a potential risk to people’s physical and mental health, especially staff and those who live near ports or work in shipyards. They also facilitate the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, with outbreaks widely being widely reported on certain cruise ships.

The impacts of noise, air pollution and difficult working conditions for shipyard staff can also cause injury and mental health issues.

“Our review is the most comprehensive to date to combine these research fields and take a holistic view of how cruising damage our environments and our health. We now need global legislation to minimize damage on both our oceans and our health,” concludes Lloret.

The findings are published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin.

South West News Service writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.