This paper was written as part of the 2001 Alaska Ocean Sciences Bowl
high school competition. The conclusions in this report are solely those
of the student authors.
The History & Future of Cruise Ship Waste:
Modern Perspectives For a Changing Industry
A Fifty Year Plan for The Gastineau Channel
Written in part by each
of the following:
Clay Good, coach
II. PRESENT PROBLEMS, AND CONCERNS
III. FLUSHING RATE OF THE GASTINEAU CHANNEL
VI. EFFECTS ON ECOSYSTEM
VII. CONCLUSION AND MANAGEMENT PLAN
APPENDIX (FIGURES AND TABLES)
Southeast Alaskas Gastineau Channel, located near Juneau, is
a semi-enclosed fjord, an environment that requires protection from
the waste generated by cruise ships transiting this waterway en route
Juneau. For the past five decades, the tourism industry has greatly
increased, in turn raising the concerns of the effects on the environment.
The impacts of the cruise industry on the surrounding environment are
influenced by the hydrology of Gastineau Channel, the adequacy of federal
and state regulations, and the production and disposal of waste. Over
the past decade, Alaskas waters have been polluted by waste generated
from cruise vessels. If new standards are not implemented, the environment
will continue to degrade.
The focus of this report involves various types of waste discharges
from cruise vessels and their effects on the ecosystem. The wastes from
cruise ships are black water (raw sewage), gray water (sinks, showers,
galleys), bilge water (oil and water mixture), and hazardous wastes
(toxics). Federal and State regulations now prohibit the discharge of
many of the above wastes until treated. With cruise ships getting larger
and discharging more wastes, we believe the present treatment systems
and regulations do not adequately protect Southeast waters.
At the outset of the tourism industry, the environmental impacts were
minimal, due to less traffic, and fewer passengers. Today the cruise
industrys waste systems are being upgraded through the application
of new technologies and greater attention is placed towards protecting
the environment and having a good public image. While the cruise industry
has attained higher standards than previous years, the waste disposal
in areas such as Gastineau Channel has the potential for negative environmental
impacts. The increased environmental attention of the cruise industry
and improved waste treatment regulations are reducing environmental
impacts from vessels.
New regulations, programs and funding systems are suggested to impose
better protection of the marine environment in Gastineau Channel. Implementation
of these suggestions minimize the impacts of the cruise industry on
the Gastineau Channel ecosystem.
Over the past decade, ships the size of small cities have been bringing
thousands of people from around the world to Alaska. Packed with resources
to be consumed by passengers, the cruise industry produces more waste
than it can hold, bringing up concerns over the discharges from vessels
and the impacts on the environment.
Southeast Alaskas Gastineau Channel is a semi-enclosed fjord
that, because of the oceanographic location, deserves more consideration
when presented with the cruise industry and their waste practices. Presently,
there is no formally written record as to how the Inside Passage is
impacted by the waste discharges from cruise vessels. We can only assume
that if the capacity to flush waste adequately is not present in the
Inside Passage, the environment can potentially be harmed.
This report explores these concerns and a potential environmental impact
of the growing foreign cruise ship industry, presents a responsible
and reasonable resolution for these problems and concerns, and provides
History of Regulations
Even before the United States bought Alaska, the fur trade, gold rush
and many other prosperous industries sparked a growing interest that
has continued to lure millions up to Alaska. Today, that interest is
what keeps the cruise ship industry a vital part of the economy of Alaska.
Only 8% of North Americans (Greenwald, 1998) have traveled on a cruise
ship, therefore, an opportunity for a growth in popularity exists. Because
of this possible increase, the number of ships and the amount of waste
needing to be disposed of could also be expected to grow (Table
Early, in the past century, ships discharged sewage, trash, galley
and shower water overboard without consideration of the impact on the
surrounding environment. It wasnt until 1899 when the Refuse Act
was passed, that "throwing, discharging or depositing any refuse
matter of any kind into the waters of the United States" (www.boatsafe.com/nauticalknowhow/boating/4_2_f.htm)
was prohibited. This
regulation was passed not to protect the environment but because of
the concern that the waste being discharged would eventually fill in
and close channels and waterways.
The most influential and important set of maritime environment regulations
passed in the history of ocean transportation is the International Maritime
Organizations out of treaties, which began in 1954 as the International
Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil and later
developed into MARPOL. According to the web site www.boatsafe.com, MARPOL
has been amended over the years to address issues involving pollution
of the high seas from maritime operations. Specifically, the MARPOL
treaties presently in force or under development regulate oil pollution,
noxious liquid substances, hazardous packaging, sewage, garbage, and
While some of these international pollution prevention laws have yet
to be passed, the majority is presently in effect and enforced around
the world. The issues involving vessels are being constantly addressed
and amended, though some may never be resolved. In addition to MARPOL,
there are a numerous federal and state regulations that apply to ships
operating in U.S. waters. In many cases, U.S. pollution laws such as
the Clean Water Act, Port and Tanker Safety Act and Oil Pollution Act
of 1990 are more restrictive than international regulations. All of
these environmental laws apply to cruise ships.
In the summer of 1999 the Department of Justice imposed over $25 million
in penalties to Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines for illegal discharges
of oil and chemicals discovered by Coast Guard over flights and vessel
inspections. While most of the discharges were discovered in the waters
off Florida, some of the illegal discharges occurred in Alaska waters
(Figure 5). Alaskan citizens
were outraged by these findings and Juneau Alaskas Mayor, Dennis
Egan, requested the President of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines come to
Juneau and apologize.
The concern over the adequacy of existing regulations of the cruise
industrys discharges on the air and water led the Alaska Department
of Environmental Conservation to form the Alaska Cruise Ship Task Force
composed of cruise industry representatives along with federal and state
organizations. This Task Force set out to identify ways to reduce the
potentially negative impacts of the cruise industry on Alaska's environment,
which led to the modifications of cruise ship practices. An article
by Michele Brown in the March 17, 2000 Anchorage Daily News, reported
the cruise industry voluntarily committed to no waste discharges in
"donut-holes" (Figure 1).
"Donut-holes" refer to areas contained within enclosed waters
and at least 3 miles (4.83 km) offshore, specifically those within the
Alexander Archipelago. Existing laws allow donut holes to become areas
where the discharge of untreated sewage and sinkable, non-plastic ground
up garbage is legal. Because of the sensitivity in Alexander Archipelago
these donutholes could potentially lead to dead zones as well as harmful
affects on the ecosystem due to restricted water exchange and flushing
To collect information on the discharges from vessels Alaska State
legislators are exploring the potential regulation that would require
marine water reports of all incidents "in which they know or suspect
that a vessel has pumped out waste" (The Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
20 April 2000). During the 2000 tourist season, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)
aircraft and vessels routinely patrolled the waters transited by major
cruise ships to ensure vessels were complying with environmental laws.
Furthermore, the USCG conducted environmental inspections and "sampling
of effluents each overboard discharge point on every major cruise ship"
twice during the summer (Massey, 2 June 2000). These inspections took
samples of treated sewage and gray water (water from galleys and showers).
The Alaska Cruise Ship Task Force review of the samples showed that
the marine sanitation devices used by cruise ships were not adequately
processing sewage, as the fecal coliform and Total Suspended Solids
criteria prescribed by 33 Code of Federal Regulations Part 159 were
not being met.
On December 21, 2000 Congress passed an amendment (P.L. 106-554) to
the Clean Water Act "that would fine cruise ships as much as $25,000
a day if they discharge untreated wastewater or hazardous chemicals
anywhere within Alaskas Inside Passage" as well as a series
of other environmental measures (Anchorage Daily News, 29 July 2000).
The bill, cosponsored by Alaska State Senator Frank Murkowski, placed
regulations on gray water, untreated and treated sewage while requiring
discharge sampling to ensure absolute compliance with regulations. Even
before the passing of the amendment, the cruise industry met with Governor
Tony Knowles in November and voluntarily agreed to comply with the higher
standards in the proposed legislation. Furthermore, Senate Bill No.
18, yet to be passed, includes requirements for record keeping, reporting,
information gathering, registration, penalties for non-compliance, and
to whom this bill would affect. Beyond requirements and regulations,
it is up to the cruise industry to decide whether or not to follow set
rules and minimize impact on the environment. With the lack of comprehensive
environmental regulations that continue to allow the discharge of untreated
gray water along with illegal acts of discharging, the Southeast Alaskan
environment remains at risk.
II. PRESENT: PROBLEMS, AND CONCERNS
Today, the question is whether the present regulations applied to
large cruise ships adequately protect the environment. In the past,
Alaskans, as well as others have learned from experience that existing
regulations are sometimes not followed and are in many cases not adequate
and consequently the environment suffers. The greatest concern at the
moment is that if the cruise lines comply with all regulations on discharges,
would the regulations be adequate to protect the environment from human
waste, refuse and other discharges. In an effort to reduce the environmental
impacts of larger and more cruise ships, organizations on both the environmental
and industrial sides have proposed potential amendments to the existing
Juneau community groups have voiced concern on the issue of whether
the rapid growth of the cruise industry is impacting the environment.
One example of public action on cruise ship growth is the $5 head tax
imposed on cruise ship passengers. While each resident of Juneau potentially
had different reasons for approving the $5 head tax, the main reason
behind the head tax was to regulate the growth of the cruise industry.
Cruise companies have been credited with helping to minimize negative
affects on the environment with technology and a "stronger"
commitment to regulations.
Besides the fact that a lot of Juneaus economy benefits from
tourism, another positive aspect of the cruise industry involves the
passengers decision. When cruise ship passengers choose the package
that takes them up to Alaska, they are making a choice that is best
for them and Alaska. The cruise industry allows others to experience
Alaskas beauty without leaving a big footprint from their visit.
The negative aspect of the cruise industry is the reason why so many
have voiced their concern for the environment. First, the cruise industry
brings hundreds of thousands of people to Alaska to enjoy the scenery
they cannot get at home, but the 898,610 persons (passengers and crewmembers)
that came to Juneau in the 2000 tourist season (Juneau Convention &
Visitors Bureau 2000 Cruise Ship Calendar) lead to crowds of people
at ports of call and the increase in traffic. In addition, those approximately
900,000 visitors generate a large amount of waste that need disposal.
III. FLUSHING RATE OF THE GASTINEAU CHANNEL
Gastineau Channel is a restricted fjord leading to Juneau in the Alexander
Archipelago Southeast region of Alaska. Juneau residents, through involvement
in the fishing industry and personal recreation, utilize this waterway
throughout the year. During the tourist season, cruise vessels operating
in this waterway cause higher traffic rates, which in turn could potentially
increase environmental impact. The magnitude of the impacts is reflected
by the amount of waste discharged outside the Gastineau Channel and
in "donut-holes". These areas are found throughout Southeast
Alaskas waters, where cruise vessels
are allowed to discharge untreated sewage and gray water, and ground
up sinkable garbage three miles offshore which is designated as being
open ocean waters. When gray water is discharged around Juneau, currents
affect the flushing rate (Figures 2
and 3). Assuming that gray water
is fresh, warmer than seawater, and combined with personal care products,
it will be fairly light in density and stay closer to the surface making
the potential affects.
In figure 3, the ebb (falling)
surface current is illustrated by arrows that indicate the direction
of the current. The majority of the arrows are flowing out of the Gastineau
Channel which causes greater flushing of water. Unfortunately, during
the flood current (rising), as shown by figure
2, the majority of arrows are directed inward where they are met
with an adverse current due to the sediment choked estuary in the northern
part of Gastineau Channel. Although cruise vessels are not currently
discharging any type of waste in the Gastineau Channel, these current
diagrams exhibit the possible restrictive flush rates that can be viewed
elsewhere in the Inside Passage which are still subject to cruise ship
There are many areas in Southeast Alaska where discharge from cruise
vessels have the potential to effect the surrounding ecosystem much
like the Gastineau Channels. According to the Northwest Cruise
Ship Association, waste water dilution has a very minimal effect on
the surrounding waters. The flushing rates of Southeast Alaska are important
to consider in assessing potential environmental impacts of discharges.
There are many kinds of wastes being discharged in the Inside Passage.
Two of the main wastes this report focuses on are solid and liquid wastes.
This paper will be discussing many aspects of these two categories including
gray water, bilge water, black water, and hazardous wastes. These are
just a few of the components that are a potential threat to Juneaus
waters. Liquid wastes that are dispensed by cruise vessels are broken
down into sub-categories. Black water is raw sewage. Gray water is water
from showers, sinks and galleys. Hazardous wastes are a combination
of dry cleaning, photo lab, maintenance, and paint chemicals, and bilge
water typically containing oil that leaks from the vessel's machinery.
A typical cruise vessel produces a maximum of 210,000 gallons (794,936.5
liters) of black water sewage during a one-week voyage. Sewage generated
from cruise ships generally has a higher concentration than domestic
sewage, due to the fact that treatment plants on land have greater accessibility
to a larger volume of water than treatment processes on cruise vessels.
An adequate amount of water is necessary for an effective process of
sanitizing waste because, if not treated properly, these wastes can
be a potential threat to Gastineau Channels environment.
The Clean Water Act is the main regulation that currently protects
Alaska's waters from pollutants that compromise the well being of the
Gastineau Channel. Under this act, sewage is defined as a pollutant.
Therefore, it has been established that cruise vessels must meet the
standards for marine sanitation devices (MSDs) presented above. These
devices are on-board instruments used to treat or store vessel sewage
before dispensing it. Under the recently passed amendment (P.L. 106-554),
no discharge of untreated sewage is allowed and treated sewage can be
disposed of 1 mile offshore and moving at a speed of no less than 6
Gray water consists of wastewater from showers, sinks, laundry and
galleys including contaminants such as dental and medical wastes, cooking
oil and grease, pesticides, detergents, metals, and cleaners. These
wastes contribute to the breakdown of marine life habitats. Gray water
contains levels of fecal coliform which is a result of laundry wastes.
A typical cruise vessel produces a maximum of 1,000,000 gallons (3,785,411.8
liter) of gray water on a one-week voyage. Recently a bill was passed
which requires vessels to dispose of gray water 1 mile offshore and
moving at a speed of no less than 6 knots.
The main hazardous wastes produced onboard cruise vessels include
photo processing chemicals, dry cleaning sludge (which contains perchlorethylene,
or PERC), paint waste, dirty solvents, batteries which contain lead
and cadmium, and fluorescent lamp bulbs which contain mercury. The Resource
Conservation and Recycling Act or RCRA and the Clean Water Act regulate
the handling of these wastes which prohibits any such discharge.
PERC is listed as an extremely hazardous waste that can cause birth
defects in humans, cancer, death, reproductive failure, and scarring
in fish and other marine life. Over the past summer, further research
has shown that the test results which stated that PERC was contained
in hazardous waste being discharged in Southeast Alaska were false positives.
Cruise ships reportedly collect waste such as PERC and bulbs containing
mercury and discharge them to an approved waste handler in port.
Oily Bilge Water
Oily bilge water liquids are fuels, oils, wastewater from engines,
on-board spills and other fluids from machinery that collect in the
bilge (an area found at the bottom of a vessels hull). A typical
cruise vessel produces a maximum of 25,000 gallons (9,4635.3 liters)
(Bluewater Network Petition, 2000) of oily bilge water on a one-week
voyage. Oily bilge water contains high levels of Biological Oxygen Demand
(BOD) and COD, which are dissolved solids, oil and other harmful chemicals.
The law that regulates disposal of bilge water in Southeast Alaska states
that each cruise line is required to maintain a record of all oil activity
in an Oil Record Book, and also to have an appropriate amount of oily
water separators to separate oil from water that is discharged over
the side. The US Coast Guard periodically reviews Oil Record Books and
inspects oily water separators.
Another potential hazard to the Gastineau Channels ecosystem
is solid wastes which consists of wood, food wastes, glass, plastics,
paper, cans, and cardboard. A typical cruise vessel produces a maximum
of eight tons (7.26 metric tons) of garbage on a one-week voyage. The
process of disposal that is most often used by cruise lines is incineration
aboard the vessels (Figure 4).
The ash left over is then either offloaded in Vancover B.C. or discharged
into the ocean because it is labled as sinkable. However, some cruise
lines fail to incinerate their solid waste before dispensing it into
Alaska's waters, which allows for the release of plastics which has
the potential to harm marine animals through ingestion or entanglement.
Under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, it is illegal for cruise
vessels to dispose of solid waste within three miles (4.83 km) off shore,
and for specific types of wastes, 3-25 miles (4.83-40.2 km) off shore.
It is illegal for cruise vessels to dispose of solid plastics anywhere
in the water. Just as cruise lines are to keep record books for disposing
of oil, they are required to keep a record book for all disposal and
incineration of solid waste in the Garbage Record Book.
Juneau, being uniquely placed in beautiful Southeast Alaska with wildlife
surrounding it, is a big tourist attraction. Tourism has grown over
the past few decades and is now one of the largest industries in Juneau.
Juneau's economy is partially dependent on the cruise industry with
cruise ships bringing in approximately $80,593,630 through passenger,
crewmember, and cruise lines purchases. The amount of revenue
brought in by cruise companies total to $8,641,354 through cruise related
sale tax, passenger fee tax, port and other fees. However, the amount
of revenue brought in through the cruise industry doesnt compare
to the amount the City of Juneau spends managing public facilities during
the cruise ship season. The city of Juneau spent a total of $1,296,850
through marginal and direct costs (police, emergency medical/fire, libraries,
visitors bureau, public works and other operations) (www.alaskacruises.org).
Due to the significant economical reliance upon the cruise industry,
options to improve the quality of the surrounding ecosystem could decrease
cruise ship presence in Southeast waters leading to a negative decrease
in our economy. Because of this, it is necessary to invest in economically
correct and environmentally sound programs and regulations.
VI. EFFECTS ON ECOSYSTEM
These waste emissions have negative effects on the surrounding environment,
and can cause harm to marine wildlife. Improper disposal of waste can
be additionally harmful when salmon ingest such emissions traveling
from Taku Inlet and or DIPAC located in the Gastineau Channel. The flush
rates can potentially restrict the flow of waste discharged in Stephens
Passage. Due to the significant economical reliance on the salmon industry
in Southeast Alaska, specifically the Taku Inlet, any waste disposals
could be capable of contaminating the salmon runs.
If oily bilge water is not handled properly it could poison fish and
other marine life as well as expose humans to the same chemicals when
consuming affected animals. This would affect Alaska's fishing industry,
which is a major component of Alaska as well as the economy and way
of life. When consumed, oil is fatal to birds, and marine mammals endure
eye and skin lesions. It can also cause pneumonia, hemorrhaging, liver
problems, and inflammation of membranes. When inhaled, petroleum hydrocarbons
can disturb the nervous system. Even in small amounts, fish are killed
by oil. It can also cause changes in heart rates, fin erosion, and in
reproduction, the genes of fish are altered.
The Coast Guard has estimated that one million birds and 100,000 marine
mammals die every year around the world from plastic debris floating
in the water (Bluewater Network Petition, 2000), although not directly
from cruise ships. The steroid hormone levels are reduced in seabirds
when small plastic debris is ingested. Thus, their reproductive process
is negatively affected. There are studies that show discharge of gray
water "has the potential to cause adverse environmental effects
because measured concentrations and estimated loading of nutrients and
oxygen-demanding substances are significant" (Bluewater Network
Petition, 2000). According to the International Maritime Organizations
Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), gray water may contain
contaminants that present greater threats than sewage discharges. Gray
water and black water both contain fecal coliform which contains microorganisms
that can harm the health and reproductive systems of species.
The main concern affiliated with sewage disposal is the release of
disease-causing microorganisms and an overabundance of nutrients. These
microorganisms, when consumed by marine life, can affect the health
and reproduction of the species. Humans can also be exposed to disease
when these species are consumed or handled in food preparation. Algae
can be dangerous when it grows excessively when there is an overabundance
of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. When algae over produces,
it consumes oxygen in the water, causing a shortage to marine life thus
leading to the depletion of many species. Another effect of over-enrichment
of nutrients is the overgrowth of seafloor plant life, which can cause
degradation to habitats of certain species that dwell on the seafloor.
However, the majority of the nutrients contained in sewage disposal
does not reach the seafloor because of water movement.
VII. CONCLUSION & MANAGEMENT PLAN
After reviewing all aspects of cruise ship waste discharge, we propose
the following plan to mitigate the potential negative impacts of cruise
vessels on Gastineau Channel's ecosystem. By the year 2015, approximately
3,500,000 passengers (crewmembers not included) will arrive in Juneau,
given the cruise industry will continue to increase at a constant rate.
However, representatives of the cruise industry have stated that Juneau
cannot sustain such a great amount of people and therefore it is not
plausible for this occurrence. Over the past 20 years, the cruise industry
has undergone increase and will continue to increase until limiting
factors present themselves. An example of this would be the fact that
the cruise industry market will decrease if Alaskas untouched
beauty is overtaken by cruise vessel presence. If the ratio of passengers
to the amount of waste produced onboard remains constant there will
be further possible degradation of our ecosystem. One way to prevent
this degradation is by implementing new regulations and programs.
We have devised an initiative for cruise lines that would serve as
a marketing technique if they exceeding environmental standards. This
initiative is called the Green Star Program which will be awarded to
cruise lines who show "an interest in maintaining the natural health
of water and air quality" (Homan, 1999) by exceeding current regulations
concerning pollution prevention. Cruise lines that have achieved the
Green Star are entitled to use the Green Star Logo in marketing thereby
setting an appeal to customers who support environmental excellence.
We have divided our proposed plan into 5 stages dealing with 5 types
of waste discharged from cruise vessels each stage. A cruise line could
achieve a maximum of 5 stars per stage if all 5 regulations implemented
during that stage were met before the deadline date (refer to Table
While the Green Star Program is in effect, periodic testing of Southeast
Alaskas waters will be maintained in order to provide information
on cruise ship discharge. This will take place during the cruise ship
season both in along cruise vessel routes and outside routes to create
a baseline (control) to compare and evaluate if regulations are adequate.
There will also be an on-board inspector at each port of call that will
check all equipment that is required at each deadline date. In reference
to figure 3, the arrows indicate
a collaborative data interim period. These will take place between stages
2 and 3, and after stage 5. If test results from the first data collaboration
show that regulations are adequate and the environment is benefiting,
further stages will be postponed until needed. If results show that
the ecosystem is still being harmed, stages 3, 4 and 5 will be implemented.
After stage 5, another collaborative data interim period will take place
to evaluate the adequacy of stages 3,4 and 5. If results still show
an impact upon the ecosystem, all regulations will be implemented on
another category of cruise vessels that carry less than 500 passengers.
The first deadline is January of 2002. By this time, all cruise vessels
should complete the first stage of this plan. These requirements include
The second deadline is January of 2005. By this time, all cruise
vessels should complete the second stage of this plan. These requirements
include the following:
The third deadline is January of 2010. By this time, all cruise
vessels should complete the third stage of this plan. These requirements include the following:
- All untreated sewage must be treated
- Treated sewage must be discharged 1 mile off coast
- No discharge of gray water in environmentally sensitive areas (which
will be defined by the USCG)
- Separated oily bilge water needs to be less than 10 ppm
- Cycling programs need to be established for solid wastes
- The count of treated sewage and gray water must be less than 15/100mL
- Oily bilge water must be discharged greater than 3 miles off coast
The fourth deadline is January of 2015. By this time, all cruise
vessels should complete the third stage of this plan. These requirements
include the following:
The fifth deadline is January of 2020. By this time, all cruise
vessels should complete the third stage of this plan. These requirements
include the following:
- Total suspended solids must be less than 30 mg/L
- Gray water must be discharged at least 1 mile off coast
- All drainage systems in high substance areas must be removed
- All incinerated ash from solid wastes must be disposed of on land
We conclude that through these regulations and programs, the environment
will consistently benefit, and over the next 50 years, the water quality
of the Gastineau Channel will increase. The environment will benefit from
these plans and the cruise industry has the opportunity to regain a reputation
of integrity in conserving the natural health of the surrounding ecosystems.
The government cannot do this just by regulations; the needed component
for preserving Southeast Alaskas ecosystems will be the cruise lines'
cooperation and support.
- All treated sewage and gray water must be discharged at least 3
miles off coast
- The Cradle to Grave Policy is adopted for all hazardous wastes
- Solid wastes must be discharged 10 miles off coast in open ocean
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Appendix (figures and tables)
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