What’s up with the Environment and the Cruise Lines?

We are pretty sure you have probably heard in the news, seen on TV or maybe one of your friends or family have mentioned to you something like, “those cruise ships are horrible for the environment!”  Well, there is a lot of information out there on the “web” about cruise lines and the environment and some of it is true while others may be labeled as sensationalism.  Regardless, in this lesson we are going to review some of the positive initiatives that the local cruise lines that sail out of Port Everglades are actively working on for Mother Earth!

Let’s start this lesson off with some definitions of frequently used acronyms and vocabulary words in this subject matter so that we can better understand the passage and become more fluid in the jargon used in this industry.

AWP: Advance Wastewater Purification

ASC: Aquaculture Stewardship Council

Ballast Water: is seawater brought onto a ship to help stabilize it.

Bunkering:  Acquiring water from local sources at ports of call

CLIA: Cruise Line International Association

ECA: Emission Control Areas

FIP: Fishery Improvement Project

GSTC: Global Sustainable Tourism Council

HFO: Heavy Fuel Oil

Hull:  the main body of a ship or other vessel, including the bottom, sides, and deck but not the masts, superstructure, rigging, engines, and other fittings.

IMO: International Maritime Organization

ISSA: International Seafood Sustainability Association

LNG: Liquified Natural Gas

MSC:  Marine Stewardship Council

Port of Call: a place where a ship stops on a voyage.

(RO) Reverse Osmosis: Reverse Osmosis (RO) is a water treatment process that removes contaminants from water by using pressure to force water molecules through a semipermeable membrane. During this process, the contaminants are filtered out and flushed away, leaving clean, delicious drinking water.

WWF: World Wildlife Fund

Now that we have those definitions out of the way, let’s dive in deep into some of these initiatives!

Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruise Lines are two examples that we are going to refer to in this lesson. 

Royal Caribbean believes that they have a responsibility to their guests, their employees, and the communities they visit, but most critically they have a responsibility to the oceans, which are at the very essence of their business.  With this statement, many of their initiatives are developed. 

Since 1992, when they developed their Save the Waves® program, they have focused on waste management and decided to make a company-wide philosophy of social responsibility and sustainability practices that guide many of their business decisions.  More than $13 million has gone to support marine conservation and education programs.  They choose projects that focus on sustainable fishing initiatives, climate change research, species preservation, and education and destination stewardship.

They guide themselves with four key principals:

  1. Reduce, reuse, recycle – Reduce the generation of waste material, reuse and recycle wherever possible, and properly dispose of remaining wastes.
  2. Practice pollution prevention – It is strictly forbidden to throw anything overboard.
  3. Go Above and Beyond Compliance (ABC) – Do more than the regulations require.
  4. Continuous Improvement – Change is the only constant. Innovation is encouraged and rewarded.

Royal Caribbean entered into a five-year partnership with the WWF in 2016 to focus on ensuring the long-term health of the oceans.  They primarily focus on working to reduce Royal Caribbean’s environmental footprint, support WWF’s global oceans conservation work, and raise awareness among Royal Caribbean's passengers about the importance of ocean conservation.

Click beach image to watch a video on ocean conservation.

Some of the targets they have in place in 2020 are:

  • Obtain MSC and ASC Chain of Custody certification for Royal Caribbean’s global fleet of ships to ensure seafood marked as MSC or ASC certified is traceable to a certified fishery or farm.
  • In North America and Europe operations, responsibly source 75 percent of its farmed seafood by volume from ASC certified responsible farms, farms in full assessment for ASC certification, and/or comprehensive aquaculture improvement projects.
  • Publicly recognize current tours that are verified against a GSTC-recognized sustainability standard.  Indicate which tours are verified to this standard and categorize all these tours under “sustainable tours” so that consumers can view the range of “sustainable” offerings.
  • By the end of 2020, Royal Caribbean will increase the number of sustainable tours offered to guests by certifying over 1,000 RCL tours by GSTC certified operators.



Since 2002, Princess Cruise Lines has invested significant resources in new technology, equipment and training in regards to environmental issues.  They are working to ensure they show progress with reducing their emissions, fuel consumption, water and energy use. 

Like most of the other major cruise lines, Princess is working to eliminate most single-use plastic items from all ships and replace them with dispensers or recycle-friendly alternatives.  Many major cruise lines have pledged to stop using plastic straws aboard their ships, replacing them with paper straws or no straws at all.  Single use plastic reduction also includes silverware, drinkware and plastic bags. 

By 2021 many ships will plan to eliminate plastic water bottles.


In recent years, international, national, regional, and local governments have changed laws and regulations to require that ships operating near shore burn cleaner marine fuels.  The regions where fuel sulfur content is restricted are often referred to as Emission Control Areas or ECAs. Outside ECAs, ships can burn heavy fuel oil (HFO) which may contain as much as 3.5% sulfur. Inside ECAs, ships can burn marine fuel with a cap of 0.5% sulfur. 

In the cruise industry, the cost of fuel is significant. Because lower sulfur fuel is substantially more expensive than higher sulfur fuel – sometimes the cost is nearly double – the fuel sulfur requirements can have a big impact on the company’s bottom line. In order to meet the new low sulfur fuel requirements in a cost-effective way, Princess Cruise Lines is investing in Advanced Air Quality Systems (AAQS) technology also called Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (EGCS).  The Princess fleet is fully engaged in this program – by 2020 14 ships will have EGCS installations and future ships will come with them already installed! 

More new ships also rely on LNG rather than diesel for propulsion. Not only can LNG be cheaper than diesel, but it also produces less harmful emissions. The problem is that LNG fueling stations are not yet widely available, limiting where these newer ships can sail.

Vessel Design

Modern day cruise ships are also constantly looking at the design of their vessels to ensure efficiency and the environment. 

Check out this video on building a new Royal Caribbean Ship!

Here are some examples of how designs can affect efficiency and the environment: Here are some examples of how designs can affect efficiency and the environment:

  • Hull Configuration designed to reduce drag and limit non-indigenous marine species’ ability to attach to it and be transferred to other ecosystems as the ship moves from port to port.
  • High-Efficiency Appliances – for example an ice maker than requires 65% less water.
  • Window Tinting designed for marine environment allowing natural light to enter the ship but reduces both the amount of solar heat that comes through and the amount of air conditioning needed to cool.
  • Onboard Production of Water: Reverse Osmosis is used to convert seawater into fresh potable water and bunkering is used with most large cruise ships. 
  • Capturing condensation: The condensation from air conditioning systems is collected for such uses as machinery operation and doing laundry.
  • Advanced Wastewater Purification: This is a system that cleans wastewater generated from onboard sinks, showers, laundry, galleys, toilets and medical facilities.  Currently, 33 Royal Caribbean Cruises ships are equipped with AWP systems and all new ships will have AWPs built in.
  • Ballast Water Treatment System: Ballast water is seawater brought onto a ship to help stabilize it. Royal Caribbean’s systems treat ballast water and greatly reduces or eliminates its potential to discharge non-native species into other local environments when the ships move to other ports.  Quantum of the Seas was built with a ballast water treatment system before there were any international requirements to have such technology.  Other Royal Caribbean ships have been retrofitted with ballast water systems as part of ongoing initiatives to include this feature on all their vessels.
  • Bilge Water Treatment System: Bilge water is oil-contaminated water collected from engine spaces.  The International Maritime Organization (IMO) standard for discharging treated bilge water is 15 parts per million.  In 2013, Royal Caribbean ships discharged processed bilge water treated to an average of less than 1.5 parts per million.

This has been a lot of technical information, but the cruise business is a big business and the environment is a big deal, so we need to get this right! Right?

Some of the actions that the cruise lines are implementing are small ones that are happening within our own neighborhoods.  We all need to start somewhere and locally is usually a great stepping stone!

Career Corner!

Environmental Officer:

These positions typically conduct environmental assessments, ensure environmental compliance, assist crew to understand recycling, waste handling, and pollution prevention. Environmental Officer usually reports directly to the Captain.

Usually you will need an Environmental, Science, or Engineer based bachelor’s degree or higher. You will also need to be familiar with environmental quality standards, marine regulations, and current maritime environmental issues.

Lesson Activities & Questions:

  1. Go on to one of the Association websites listed at the beginning of the lessons like (IMO, CLIA or GSTC) and learn more about what they do.
    1. List three things that you learned about what the association does.
  2. Why do you think it is important for the cruise lines to source their farmed seafood from ASC certified responsible farms?
  3. What type of sustainable tour do you think is offered in Greater Fort Lauderdale to those cruise passengers sailing out of Port Everglades?
  4. Look up where LNG diesel stations can be found worldwide and list 3 of them.
  5. Out of the eight different design components for vessels, which ones do you think are the most effective for helping the environment?