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US cities charting a course to restrict cruise ships from ports — here's what it could mean for our coasts

This bold stance comes on the heels of the pandemic.

This bold stance comes on the heels of the pandemic.

Photo Credit: iStock

Coastal cities across the United States are making waves in sustainable tourism. In a united front, cities in Florida, Maine, Alaska, and California are pushing to restrict or outright ban cruise ships from their ports. 

This bold stance comes on the heels of the pandemic, which provided coastal communities with a glimpse of life sans these massive vessels — a life marked by clearer waters and less crowded streets.

The initiatives, spanning the vast expanse of the U.S. shoreline, are driven by local concerns over over-tourism and pollution. These cities face a significant challenge: Most anchorages and piers used by cruise ships are under federal jurisdiction, which limits the local government's ability to control the comings and goings of these vessels.

In Monterey, California, the city council has terminated passenger landing services for visiting ships, citing environmental risks to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Similarly, Juneau, Alaska, has capped the number of cruise ships allowed in its downtown port to five per day. 

Across the sea, Amsterdam has also taken steps to ban the boats. Despite fears of legal repercussions, these actions highlight a growing commitment to environmental stewardship.

Environmental experts assert that cruise ships contribute significantly to marine pollution, including the discharge of waste and fuel pollution that harm delicate marine ecosystems and wildlife. MSC Cruises, a Swiss cruise line, recently faced backlash for greenwashing as well. 

Activists have long urged for stricter regulations, seeing these local efforts as a step towards global maritime sustainability. Their advocacy underscores the need for a balance between tourism and environmental preservation.

Business owners are pushing back, fearing the negative economic impacts. Bar Harbor, Maine, faced a lawsuit from local businesses following its decision to limit disembarking cruise passengers. The debate over cruise passengers' actual contribution to local economies remains heated, with some studies suggesting that their spending is minimal compared to other forms of tourism.

These U.S. cities are pioneering a critical dialogue on sustainable tourism, balancing economic, environmental, and social factors. Their efforts could chart a course for other coastal communities worldwide, proving that environmental consciousness and local autonomy can coexist with tourism.

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