The Green Sailor: Thinking of the Environment

Going on a cruise is a bit like camping: Man and nature united – with some bits of overpriced gear in between. The immediate connection to nature that a sailor experiences on a cruise demands a responsible behavior. In this article, I will try to point you towards some rules every cruiser should follow to humble Mother Nature.

Many of the World’s most popular cruise destinations are natural environments at risk: Coral reefs in the Caribbean or Mediterranean shorelines, for example. No “normal” tourist gets as close to sensitive ecosystems as cruisers do. Therefore, I would like to underline how important it is that we treat the sea and its valuable features in a responsible way that will preserve the sea for future generations in the beauty we find today. Sorry if I start sounding pathetic, but I am a biologist after all. And there are just too many little offences that a sailor comes across over and over again.

One of the most harmful crimes of cruisers in coral reef areas is anchoring. Keep in mind that a coral reef is not just some sort of rocky ground with lots of fish, but an extremely rich – and vulnerable – ecosystem. What many people see as rocks are actually the skeletons of living animals that can be seriously damaged by anchors.

If you are cruising in a coral reef, please avoid using anchors. In many countries, anchoring is prohibited in coral reef areas anyway. Others will provide buoys – if so, please make use of them! Nearby ports and cruise authorities as well as local charts will give you information on where to find buoys.

The ocean is no garbage can

If you enjoy snorkeling in coral reefs or other marine environments, please try not to touch anything you see. Enjoy the beauty of life under the sea without disturbing it. This has also a practical implication: Many marine animals are toxic or venomous and it is in your very own interest not to be stung or bitten by them.

Another, even more severe danger to marine ecosystems are leaking fuel tanks. If an anchor has the capacity to destroy a small spot in a reef, spreading oil or fuel can do the job in an area with few limits. Take much care about fuels as well as shampoos, soaps and other chemicals that are not biodegradable or harmful for marine life.

This also applies to some degree to human waste tanks – although biodegradable, the contents of your toilet should go overboard only if you are off coastal areas or gradually in small amounts. Many cruisers are not equipped with holding tanks (in which case the “gradually, small amounts” issue can be checked), but if yours is, make sure not to empty the tank in ecologically sensitive environments. Ports should provide facilities to do the job; leaking tanks of cruiser toilets can cause heavy fines, don’t even think about pumping your poo into the sea in ports or marinas.

For future vacations and generations

Waste that is not biodegradable should be disposed in ports and marinas only – do not dump any garbage in the sea! This might sound like common sense, but cruising in the Caribbean means that you witness a lot of naughtiness…

Finally, and this is again something I find personally very important to emphasize: Please do not buy dead animals as souvenirs! This applies to corals, seashells, seahorses, dried starfish, conches and other marine life often sold in large quantities especially in touristy towns the Mediterranean. Many of these animals are listed and trade with endangered species can be heavily fined. Once you are heading back home and come across customs officers with you newly bought conch, you will quickly learn how expensive these souvenirs can become.

If you are interested in marine life and want to learn more about it, get some books about the topic, visit your local aquarium or browse related marine biology websites. Aquatic life is a fascinating subject and getting involved with it can be incredibly rewarding. I would certainly encourage you to learn more about it, it can add a whole new perspective to your cruise adventure. However, if you do, please act responsibly and show respect for nature. We got only one World, please look after it!

Further Reading

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Woods Hole Marine Biology Photograph of the Day

Wikipedia on Marine Life and Biology

Marine Pollution Reports