Big cruise ships in the Arctic are a bad idea

two huge cruise ships
CC BY 2.0 sgbirch

An Arctic explorer calls for 'party ships' to be kept out of this sensitive and remote part of the world.

A prominent Arctic explorer, Arved Fuchs, who was the first person to reach both the North and South poles on foot in the same year, has spoken out against the rise in cruise ships visiting the northern Arctic region. In an interview with German newspaper, Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, he expressed concern over the numbers of tourists spilling out of ships and into tiny rural Inuit communities. He said (via the Guardian),

"The number of cruise ships is rising, that’s the crux. And the bigger the ship, the more problematic this is. Party ships have no place in the Arctic."

People disembark, walk around, gawk at the locals, then get back on board their ship without benefiting anyone but themselves. In fact, their visit isn't even neutral; the Arctic environment is highly sensitive and vulnerable to climate change, and cruise ships are a notoriously terrible form of transportation, disgorging roughly 8 gallons of sewage per passenger and "more than 95,000 litres of oily bilge from engines and machinery." So, by visiting, people are contributing to the region's demise.

Michael Byers, a professor at the University of British Columbia, described this in 2016 as 'extinction tourism.' There is a whole new and burgeoning tourism industry based on the idea of seeing places before they're gone, despite the connection between increased visitation and environmental and cultural destruction. Byers said that Arctic cruises are only possible now because

"carbon emissions have so warmed the atmosphere that Arctic sea ice in summer is disappearing. The terrible irony is that this ship – which even has a helicopter for sightseeing and a huge staff-to-passenger ratio – has an enormous carbon footprint that is only going to make things even worse in the Arctic."

Unfortunately, as European cities that used to be popular cruise ship destinations, such as Dubrovnik, Venice, Mallorca, and Barcelona, crack down on the number and size of ships allowed in their ports, companies are seeking new places to go. And the industry certainly doesn't show any signs of slowing; the Guardian stated that "an estimated 124 new cruise ships – with a capacity of 5,000 passengers or more each – are reported to be under construction or due to be launched in the next few years."

Fuchs is happy that more attention is being given to the Arctic and that awareness of its role as a bellwether in the climate crisis is increasing; but that should not give us leave to treat it as a playground and to inundate it with the worst forms of industrial tourism that exist. Cruise ships do not belong in the Arctic, and until Arctic communities are able to regulate visitation, it's up to us, as conscientious travellers, to recognize that. Just as the thought of township and favela tours should give anyone the heebie-jeebies, so should a 'party ship' in the Arctic. Some places are best left respectfully alone.

Big cruise ships in the Arctic are a bad idea
An Arctic explorer calls for 'party ships' to be kept out of this sensitive and remote part of the world.

Related Content on Treehugger.com