The rapid growth of the cruise industry over the last 20 years has resulted in increased stress on environmental and cultural resources in cruise-ship ports of call. Many of the world’s top cruise destinations are located in unique and threatened ecosystems, such as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. These areas are often unprepared to effectively manage sudden visitation increases in order to maximise local benefits and minimise negative impacts.

Also, cruise lines have traditionally not prioritised sustainability issues as part of their decision-making at the destination level. To address these challenges, major stakeholder groups need to work together to maintain, protect and preserve the quality of natural and cultural resources in cruise destinations. From cruise lines and governments to civil society organisations and shore operators, they all have a stake in ensuring a healthy future for each destination and for cruise tourism around the world.


Supporting a sustainable future for destinations is part of maintaining the resource base on which the cruise business is built. Providing the best possible experience for passengers includes ensuring their health, safety and enjoyment at all times, including their time on shore. Lines can work with other stakeholders to minimise negative impacts and maximise the benefits of their presence in a port. This means:

“When working with local suppliers, lines can develop system of quality assurance and raise awareness about sustainability issues.”
  • Working with local governments, communities and service providers to develop management plans for sustainable growth, and creating standards and systems of quality assurance for local vendors or shore excursion providers.
  • Raising awareness among passengers and crew about environmental and cultural issues and ways to support conservation through their actions.

Companies contributing directly to sustainability by investing in local conservation and community development projects, or organising on-board fundraising activities.

Maintaining the health and attractiveness of ports as cruise destinations and providing high-quality and sustainable attractions and services can raise revenues and improve the quality of life for local people.

Governments are responsible for enacting policies that protect natural and cultural resources, and providing a supportive enabling environment, for example, by offering financial or business incentives to cruise lines and local businesses for responsible management and operational practices.

National parks and other protected areas are key elements in sustainable development and tourism strategies, and governments can work closely with park managers to effectively manage increased tourism from cruise ships and ensure that it contributes to the environmental and financial sustainability of protected areas.

Governments can also help preserve a destination by providing sustainable infrastructure resources, such as port facilities, roads, visitor centres, waste and water management and energy services, and by offering training and capacity building to ensure that services such as transportation, dining and recreation are provided in a sustainable manner.


The cruise industry has grown rapidly in recent years, with average annual increases in passenger numbers of 8.2% over the last two decades. More than 11 million passengers sailed on cruise ships in 2005. Between 2000 and 2004, 62 new ships were introduced to the North American market alone, and another 21 are expected to come into service by 2009.

Of the top 30 cruise destinations in the world, 20 are located in the Caribbean and Mediterranean, two important biodiversity hotspots. Among these, the ten most popular ports are all found in the Caribbean Basin, which includes South Florida, the Caribbean islands, Mexico and Central America – areas that are home to unique and threatened species and habitats.

As cruise tourism grows, there is rising concern about potential negative impacts on natural resources from uncontrolled or excessive visits to sites such as coral reefs and rainforests. Inadequate planning and infrastructure development in newly popular ports of call have meant that many destinations are unable to handle the sudden influx of cruise passengers in a sustainable manner.

In the past, cruise lines have not focused adequately on integrating long-term sustainability issues into their decision-making frameworks at the destination level and have not worked closely with other destination stakeholders to address the special needs of cruise tourism before a destination becomes popular.

However, this approach is changing, as all stakeholders recognise their specific interest in, and responsibility for, protecting and preserving the quality of cruise destinations. For the cruise industry, it makes good business sense to help protect the resource base upon which its business is built.

Governments want to raise revenue, maintain the quality of tourism in their countries and maximise benefits for their people. Civil society in the form of nongovernmental organisations, local communities and indigenous groups, wants to ensure benefits for its members and protect local culture and environment. Shore operators want to be competitive and preserve the natural and cultural resources they rely on for their livelihood.

Cruise lines are responsible for looking after the health, safety and entertainment of their passengers throughout the cruise experience. While much of this is related to ensuring the environmental sustainability of all direct operations on their ships, it also extends to passengers’ experiences at ports of call, either as independent travellers or, especially, as part of packaged shore excursions sold by the cruise line.

Contributing to the sustainability of a destination will help to ensure not only that passengers have a safe, enjoyable experience, but also that the destination remains healthy and attractive to future passengers. The cruise lines also have a responsibility to work with local stakeholders to ensure that the presence of their passengers is as undisruptive and beneficial as possible to the local population.

Cruise lines are adept at effectively managing large flows of passengers in an efficient manner, and they can impart that knowledge and experience to other stakeholders and shore operators in their destinations to help promote the sustainable management and growth of tourism.


To maintain and improve the quality of a destination, cruise lines need to work closely with local stakeholders and businesses. Through close cooperation with government agencies and ministries, lines can positively influence the development and governance of an area.

It is important to be transparent in negotiations with governments or other partners to ensure trust and maintain the integrity of relationships. Lines should remain aware of long-term sustainability issues during negotiations; while it may be tempting to sign an agreement that offers significant benefits in the short term, if it is unacceptable or unsatisfactory for other stakeholders in the long run, the overall success and sustainability of the destination will suffer.

Cruise lines can cooperate with other local providers to develop a management plan for a destination. Such a plan can promote effective and sustainable management of tourism growth. When working with local suppliers and vendors, the lines can develop a system of quality assurance and raise awareness about sustainability issues among their local partners.

In determining their programme of offered shore excursions for a particular location, cruise lines can contribute significantly to local sustainability by actively seeking, choosing and promoting environmentally and culturally responsible shore operators and providers of recreational facilities. In association with Cruise International, cruise members have developed programmes and alliances with local suppliers and vendors as well as international organisations to ensure their longterm sustainability and benefits for everyone involved in the industry.


Carnival Cruise Lines has established an alliance with the International SeaKeepers Society to install scientific data-gathering devices on Carnival Triumph and Carnival Spirit to monitor ocean water quality. Developed under the direction of scientists at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, the devices gather a wide range of data to aid in assessing ocean pollution and researching global climate change and cyclic weather patterns. The data is transmitted via satellite to the University of Miami and then to various environmental groups, governmental agencies and universities.


The North West CruiseShip Association (NWCA) is a non-profit association representing the eight major cruise lines that operate in the Pacific North West, Canada, Alaska and Hawaii. In Juneau, Alaska, the NWCA is helping to engage and educate the community about the cruise industry with an environmental education programme for students from local schools.

The programme includes tours of ships docked in port, where students learn about the ships’ recycling, emissions and wastewater programmes. Princess Cruises shows students to its lower deck recycling centre, while Celebrity Cruises includes the engine room on its tours, to show students where emissions are monitored on video cameras and to teach them about gas turbines. HAL has provided oceanography classes to local high school students, including environmental tours of their ships’ wastewater systems.


The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) represents 13 cruise lines operating more than 100 vessels in Florida, Caribbean and Mexican waters. The association provides two Destination Customer Service Workshops intended to enhance local stakeholders’ cruise products, improve levels of customer service, and increase stakeholders’ insight into cruise passenger spending and the cruise industry.

The workshops also highlight the successes of other destinations, to improve the overall marketability of a particular destination.


In the Panamanian port of Puerto Amador, Cunard offers a special shore excursion in partnership with the Embera Indian village that is designed to help community members maintain their unique heritage and give them an opportunity to share it with visitors.


Disney Cruise Line works with the Grand Cayman Department of Tourism each year to encourage children to learn more about the environment and to take action to help protect their resources. Nearly 1,500 students are invited to participate in the Jiminy Cricket’s Environmentality Challenge, by taking an Environmental Pledge and working on a class project geared to raising awareness of environmental issues.


Holland America Line (HAL), in partnership with the US National Park Service and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has developed a Whale

“To maintain and improve the quality of a destination, cruise lines need to work closely with local stakeholders and businesses.”

Strike Avoidance Training programme for the maritime industry. This computer-based programme educates mariners in how to recognise and avoid whales. HAL offers the programme as part of its regular employee environmental awareness training.

NCL’s partnerships in Bermuda Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has partnered with local stakeholders in Bermuda to give its passengers a taste of the island’s cuisine and culture. When Norwegian Crown and Norwegian Majesty dock in Bermuda, the company offers its passengers an extended Freestyle Dining programme, allowing them to choose from any of the restaurants on board the ships, and a selection of 30 to 50 of Bermuda’s top restaurants with voucher schemes. NCL also offers a shore excursion programme that includes a number of events at local historical sites.


Royal Caribbean International has installed sophisticated instruments and high-tech atmospheric and oceanographic laboratories on Explorer of the Seas to help scientists answer significant ocean and climate research questions. The labs are the result of a public-private partnership involving RCI and the University of Miami Rosenstiel.


Scientists from research institutions around the world (the School for Marine and Atmospheric Science, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the Southeast Atlantic Coastal Ocean Observing System and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) continuously collect measurements along the ship’s repetitive cruise tracks to develop long-running, detailed atmospheric and oceanographic data series.

Scientists measure the flow of ocean currents to understand the balance and distribution of heat on Earth, study the dynamic air-sea interface, collect data to use in ocean and hurricane models, and monitor important, but hard-to-measure, populations of organisms living in the sea.

The data collected is also used for weather forecasts throughout the Caribbean, and includes storm and hurricane forecasts. Visiting scientists also provide guest lectures on board the ship.