Tourism in the Caribbean: An Environmental Concern (draft#1, possibly final nothing wrong!)

This topic submitted by Dean Campbell ( at 5:43 PM on 4/21/06.

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Tropical Field Courses -Western Program-Miami University

Dean Campbell
Marine Ecology
Tourism in the Caribbean: An Environmental Concern

Families from across the world often journey to the beautiful, tranquil Caribbean islands for a warm, fun vacation. Tourism to the Caribbean has increased over the past few decades. In Jamaica and Barbados, tourism rose 52.2% from 1978-1988 and continues to climb today (King 2000). Tourists venture to the Caribbean islands in a variety of ways. Many choose to stay on the islands in hotels for days or weeks. Others buy a vacation on board a cruise ship, and that ship will sail to various islands for the passengers to enjoy. Both of these vacations, however, can have negative effects on the Caribbean environment.

Overnight tourism to Caribbean islands, where vacationers live on the island for a period of time, has begun to damage local ecosystems. Tourists consume exorbitant amounts of water, electricity, and seafood, and these consumption rates have caused shortages and price gauging in these resources (King 2000). Countries such as Antigua, Barbuda, Barbados and Saint Kitts and Nevis have been listed as “water scarce” due to this excessive water consumption. This is in large part due to tourist resorts, which use on average five to ten times more water than residential areas in the Caribbean (Sea, Land Based Pollution… 2005). Tourist facilities also increase pollution levels. Hotels in Jamaica and the Bahamas were recently fined for release of high fecal pollution and subsequently discouraged tourism there for a short time after (Uebersax 1996). Perhaps the most frightening display of power tourism can have on local communities can be found in Negril, Jamaica. In 1992, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) attempted to open a 500-bedroom hotel in Negril. Various organizations, such as the local Chamber of Commerce and the Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society, wished to postpone the construction until the sewage plant was upgraded and the marine area protected and given park status. The plan to build the resort was supported by Prime Minister Patterson of the island, however, and the project went ahead with no delays (King 2000).

The environmental maladies produced by overnight tourism are not without remedy. Barbados has begun using a technique known as reverse osmosis to harvest freshwater from seawater while other countries are employing solar, wind, and biomass energy to reduce their dependence on imported oil (Sea, Land Based Pollution… 2005). The nongovernmental group Caribbean Action For Sustainable Tourism has created a plan of action for the tourism industry which emphasizes ten important areas: “waste minimization, energy efficiency, conservation and management, management of fresh water resources, waste water management, hazardous substances transport, land-use planning and management, involving staff customers and communities in environment issues, design for sustainability, and partnerships for sustainable development” (King 2000). It is their hope that this plan will be applied to all resorts in the Caribbean area and will help preserve the delicate ecosystem that has been plagued by overnight tourism.

Tourism can harm wildlife endemic to the Caribbean islands via the introduction of alien invasive species. Alien species can threaten endemic species by competing for habitat space, disrupting the community tropic chain, or introducing foreign disease. Jamaica currently has the highest number of threatened animal and plant species in the Caribbean at 254, followed closely by Cuba with 225 (Sea, Land Based Pollution… 2005). One example of an alien invasive species is the Small Indian Mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus). The species was intentionally imported as a control agent against rats in sugar cane fields in Jamaica as early as 1872. Since then, it has been linked to the extinction of five endemic species: one lizard (Celestrus occiduus), one snake (Alsophis ater), two birds (Siphonorhis americanus and Pterodroma caribbaea) and one rodent (Oryzomys antillurum). The mongoose spread to other Caribbean islands in just a few decades and similar biodiversity impacts were exhibited in those countries. In Cuba, the mongoose has also been identified as a key agent in the decline of endemic insectivore populations (Ali, et. Al 2003). Researchers suggest a regional response to the invasive species problem. The Invasive Species Specialist Group assisted in the review and strategy development process for islands in the Pacific. The Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP) has put facilitation of regional initiatives against invasive species at the forefront of its objectives. The current “state of the art” regional strategy can be found with the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). The organization has produced an assessment of invasive species issues in the region, using “technical reviews of terrestrial and freshwater invasive species, an account of relevant legislation, an assessment of pathways by which species introductions occur, and a draft regional strategy for invasive species” (Ali, et. Al 2003).

Cruise ship tourism is another form of tourism responsible for much damage to the Caribbean environment, as cruise ships release large amounts of pollution into the Caribbean ecosystem each year. One large cruise ship typically carries 2,000 passengers and 1,000 crew, generating as much waste as a small city (Adams 2002). These cruise ships often dump this waste, legally or illegally, into international waters and it is carried by currents throughout the Caribbean and Antilles. This pollution also contributes to the destruction of coral reefs, an already endangered species (Uebersax 1996). Why, one might ask, would cruise ships ever dispose of waste improperly and threaten the local ecosystem? The answer is quite simple: environmentally safe disposal of waste costs time and money. For example, a 55-gallon drum of photo waste costs $300 a drum (Adams 2002). Holding large amounts of waste on a cruise ship until reaching a port that can accept it takes up valuable space on board the ship and can force the ship to change its route of destinations from a commercially desirable one to one that is environmentally acceptable. Among the waste generated by cruise ships are a myriad of man-made toxins such as perchloroethylene from dry cleaning, benzene and toluene from paint and solvents, and oily waste from fuel and machine oil. Perchloroethylene has been linked to cancer and birth defects in humans, while benzene is also a known carcinogen. Oil substances can have drastic negative effects on marine life if dumped into the ocean, as trace amounts can kill fish, birds, and cause internal death in marine mammals (Adams 2002).

There have been many recent lawsuits against cruise ship companies for illegal, environmentally unsafe actions taken by various cruise ships. A suit in the 1990’s against Princess Cruises of Great Britain awarded $250,000 to passengers who videotaped plastic garbage bags being dumped into the sea (Uebersax 1996). More recently, Norwegian Cruise Line pleaded guilty and paid a $1 million fine to a felony conviction involving the cruise ship Norway falsifying records about illegally dumped oil waste. Federal agents who investigated the case believe the company’s pollution went on much longer than the fine would have people believe, suggesting that Norwegian Cruise Line got off easy. Court records support that the ship poured hundred of thousands of gallons of oily bilge water into the ocean and dumped raw sewage mixed with hazardous, carcinogen causing chemicals into waters near Miami, FL for many years (Adams 2002). Royal Caribbean Cruises was fined $27 million for similar charges when the Coast Guard shot aerial videotape of an oil slick trailing the ship Sovereign of the Seas near San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1994. The penalty for the Norway, however, was much lighter because the company’s owners reported pollution problems to the US government. It is also known that Norwegian had been tipped about an EPA probe into the cruise line’s waste removal before the owners stepped forward. An investigating EPA agent called the decision by Norwegian to admit its environmental faults to the government “a brilliant business decision” (Adams 2002). While cruise liners continue to illegally discharge hazardous waste into the Caribbean environment, it is the hope of many that the penalties they receive will stiffen and eventually bring about increased environmental awareness and improve waste management standards (Uebersax 1996).

Cruise ship pollution is currently being monitored and regulated by the MARPOL protocol, an international effort to prevent marine pollution from being generated by ships. Ocean dumping of waste is regulated by the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and other Materials. There are provisions in these documents that allow dumping of shredded glass and tins and treated food and human waste (Uebersax 1996). Waste discharge is restricted by oceanographic conditions, ecological considerations, and shipping traffic. Annex V of MARPOL 73/78 denotes this and other provisions such as the prohibition of the disposal of any plastic products (Uebersax 1996). Many cruise ships have begun to use alternative food products, containers, serving equipment and fuels, and many of these products are becoming recyclable or reusable (Uebersax 1996).

Any plan for handling cruise ship pollution must involve the collective nations of the Caribbean. The Cayman Island Government was the first to fine cruise lines not adhering to discharge requirements or “committing other marine environmental offenses in Cayman waters”, and other countries should begin to take similar measures (Uebersax 1996). Some believe that the United Nations Environmental Programme’s Regional Seas Programme should be revitalized and should identify key ecological goals for protecting the resources and wildlife in the Caribbean. An organization that could aid in spreading public awareness is the Caribbean Environmental Program, which could coordinate programs with the Caribbean nations in order to inform citizens of the continuing cruise ship problem (Uebersax 1996).

Tourism in the Caribbean can have devastating effects on local ecosystems and regional marine life. It is important to identify how these effects come about, such as misdistributions of resources to Caribbean resorts or illegal dumping of wastes by cruise ships. Once we have learned how to spot these offenses, we will then be better equipped to take legal and environmental action toward preserving the intricate balance of Caribbean ecosystems. As offenses are spotted, the Caribbean nations as well as other nations must be swift in correcting the harm done, for as harmful as it can be, it is not likely that tourism to the Caribbean will slow down any time soon.

Works Cited

Adams, Marilyn. “U.S. Keeps Wary Eye on Cruise Ships for More Pollution.” 08 Nov 2002. 23 Mar 2006. cruise-dumping.htm>.

Ali, Kairo et Al. “Invasive Species Threats in the Caribean Region.” 2003. 18 Apr 2006. Et%20al,%202003.pdf>.

King, LeBlanc, Van Lowe et Al. “The Impact of Tourism in the Caribbean.” Jul 2000.
21 Mar 2006. .

Kozyr, Elaina. “The Negative Effects of Tourism on the Ecology of Jamaica.” 18 Apr
2006. .

“Sea, Lang-Based Pollution Among Key Environmental Threats to Caribbean Islands.” 07 Jan 2005. 21 Mar 2006. envdev808.html>.

“Tourism in the Caribbean.” 18 Apr 2006. uneptextsph/tourismph/1856ceo199906a.html>.

Uebersax, Mary B. “Indecent Proposal: Cruise Ship Pollution in the Caribbean.” Aug
1996. 21 Mar 2006. .

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