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Rita Hibbard's picture

InvestigateWest launches on Spot.Us with story examining cruise ship industry

Just how green are those cruise ship tourism dollars that roll into Seattle and other west coast cities every spring and summer? Help InvestigateWest journalists find out by pledging online to support our work through an innovative journalism startup launching in Seattle Wednesday.

InvestigateWest’s story on the environmental impact of the fast-growing cruise ship industry is one of only three selected by Spot.Us for their Seattle area launch. Founded in San Francisco in 2008, Spot.Us makes it easy to support regional and local investigative reporting: log onto the site, check out the news and with just a few clicks, make a donation (as little as $20.00) to fund a story that impacts all of us.

The quality of our Puget Sound waters affects everyone living in this region. Cruise ships visiting Seattle bring more than 800,000 people to our area. The ships generate sewage, wastewater, hazardous waste, garbage and other toxic substances. Vancouver, B.C., gets even more cruise ship visitors. What’s the impact of these floating cities on human health and aquatic life? While cruise ship companies have certainly made improvements, we think it's a good time to take a look at the industry and the waters they traverse to see if the sparkling image the industry projects lines up with reality.

More than 200 Cruise Ships headed for Seattle

Before the end of the month, a 780-foot visitor will arrive at Pier 66. And Holland America’s ms  Amsterdam is just the first of many—more than 200 other cruise vessels will dock in Seattle this spring and summer.

Cruise ship season — which brings a sharply growing number of giant vessels like the ms Amsterdam to Puget Sound each year — is just around the corner.

“We’ve been talking about cruise ships for the past 10 years, really because of the significant expansion in our waters” said Marcie Keever, a representative from national environmental organization Friends of the Earth (FOE). “We have seen an explosion of cruise ships. They really are small cities.”

The number of cruise ships docking in Seattle each year has increased from 6 vessels carrying 6,615 passengers in 1999 to 218 vessels with 875,433 passengers in 2009. The Port of Seattle estimates the city will see five more ships this year, carrying a total of 858,00 passengers. The ships will dock at either Pier 66 or Pier 91, which opened to cruise ships last year.

And as the number of vacationers relaxing on cruise ships climbs each year, so does the volume of air and water pollution that cruise lines produce, Keever said.

Federal law prohibits cruise ships from dumping untreated sewage within three miles from shore. International law mandates cruise ships wait until they’re 12 miles out to discharge waste. One a vessel passes sails past the marker, however, no laws prevent them from dumping.