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Cruising heads toward a greener future

While airlines, rail networks and hotels have made fast strides in their efforts to become more sustainable, cruising has been slower to make waves. But that's all changing as cruise operators adopt more environmentally responsible technologies onboard their vessels in the quest to guide the industry toward a greener shores. 

For starters, several notable cruise operators – particularly those who run small-ships – are choosing destinations based on their conservationist merit, and are educating their passengers in how best to preserve these fragile ecosystems. Larger cruise lines are also striving to reach ever-more sustainable benchmarks, but in an era where every step counts, even the smallest strides are worthy of praise.

Wild Earth Travel is one of the companies leading the way in sustainable tourism with small-ship cruise lines. Wild Earth Travel represent a number of small ship operators around the globe, and believe tourism, when properly administered, can bring positive outcomes to the areas visited. 

But they haven’t just talked the talk. Wild Earth Travel has a company objective to educate their passengers on the fragility of the environments they visit, in the hope that guests will be motivated to continue with conservation practices. The majority of Wild Earth’s small-ship cruises involve experienced naturalists, responsible travel experts, lecturers and leading conservation policy-makers in their onboard education system. 

New Zealand-based expedition travel company, Heritage Expeditions, is one of Wild Earth Travel’s small-ship cruise lines that specialises in taking travellers to locations normally hidden from the eyes of tourists. It is in these locations that passengers are exposed to community conservation in action.

A flagship expedition is the Melanesia Discoverer (see box at right), where travellers are taken through the Solomon Islands to witness tiny Hawksbill sea turtles emerge from their hatchings and scuttle to the water’s edge. Encouraged to dig shallow trenches to aid the baby turtles, passengers experience an up-close-and-personal interaction with the endangered species, while gaining an education in conservation practices of the area.

Heritage Expeditions can also tick a number of additional green boxes, not least of which is the responsible waste treatment onboard its cruise ships. Waste is treated onboard as prescribed by MARPOL, or the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships, with non-recyclable waste brought back to be disposed of at approved sites. With a steady increase of cruise liners adopting similar practices, things are looking much brighter for the years ahead. 

Those boarding the L’Austral and Le Boreal from French cruise line Compagnie du Ponant will also experience small-ship environmental practises first hand. These ships reduce environmental impact by running on diesel engines that use Marine Diesel Oil, which is both lighter and less contaminating than conventional oil. They also use a dynamic positioning system that lessens the need to drop anchor, preserving the sea bed. The company is also abreast of the latest environmental advances and is constructing a technologically cutting-edge polar vessel that will run by harnessing wind power. 

These small-ship cruise lines are often considered the pioneers in environmentally friendly practices, but there are some noteworthy changes being implemented by the larger cruise operators as well. Some big names, including MSC Cruises and Princess Cruises, are changing the way they operate in a bid to preserve the oceans as best they can. 

MSC Cruises’s green endeavours are best demonstrated via the MSC Preziosa, with the vessel being awarded the Seven Golden Pearls by international testing service Bureau Veritas. But this isn’t just a plaque for the mantelpiece. The Seven Golden Pearls acknowledge the ship’s commitment to the environment, in particular its advanced waste water treatment system, whereby the vessel is fitted with the means to prevent the release of pollutants or waste matter into the sea and air. It also covers annexes I, IV,  V and VI of MARPOL, including pollution by oil, sewage, garbage, and ozone-depleting substances.

The cruise line has bestowed itself with the title Guardians of the Sea, and has made leaps and bounds in living up to this lofty mantle. “Oceans and life in the oceans are inextricably connected with humans,” said MSC Cruises in a statement drawing attention to the company’s environmentally mindful practices.

Jumping ships, there are other cruise liners taking their eco-friendly responsibilities seriously. Royal Princess, of the Princess Cruises fleet, has emerged as the line’s greenest ship, making a concerted effort to stay in step with its small-ship counterparts.

The Royal Princess features a more efficient hull and propeller design, which only requires the equivalent energy to operate as the line’s smaller ships. Additionally the usage of low energy lighting throughout the ship, with an emphasis on LEDs, a tunnel washer in the laundry to reduce water consumption, and the introduction of additional monitoring of the ship’s overall energy usage help keep its carbon footprint manageable.

Norwegian cruise liner Hurtigruten is another company to share a green vision for the ocean. Hurtigruten’s agreement with the Norwegian Ministry of Transportation enforces a set timetable and port pattern in order to significantly reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Hurtigruten use Marine Gas Oil for vessels sailing along the Norwegian coast, fuel that is among the most environmentally friendly in the industry. The operator also meets the government’s requirements for sailing in most vulnerable areas. 

With every cruise ship that takes an environmentally conscious step, the ocean benefits. The state of the world's marine ecosystems is changing substantially every year, so to see cruise liners putting a greater focus on a greener outcomes is both promising and inspiring in equal measure. Much work remains for the cruise sector, but the efforts of the pioneering operators will clearly influence others in years to come.


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