As a teenager, Dylan Boag was eager to move to the city, but when he finally arrived all he could think of was returning home to the crystal-clear waters of Jervis Bay, 200km south of Sydney.
Today, the 30-year-old runs an ecotourism business in the 102 km² bay with his partner, Lara Hindmarsh.
Their company offers snorkeling lessons and trips to swim with seals, dolphins and whales.
“It was heaven here during the lockdown. People have realized that city life isn’t always so great, ”says Boag. “The air is fresh and the sea is clean here. This is what makes life so good.
Judging by developers eyeing the area and tourists looking to escape Sydney on the freeway at the weekend, Boag says it looks like the rest of the world has come to the same conclusion.
But Boag and other locals are increasingly concerned about plans to open Jervis Bay Marine Park – one of five in NSW – to the cruise ship industry.
“I don’t see any bright spots to be honest. The only thing is that business owners could make more money, ”Boag says. “The health of our marine ecosystem is what sustains us all. There is nothing environmentally friendly about cruise ships.
An industry on hold
After a two-year hiatus and reputation damage caused by the Ruby Princess fiasco, Australia’s $ 5.2 billion cruise industry is eager to get back to sea.
Industry figures met with NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard in early November to discuss what would be needed.
The industry was already hoping to launch a new season, but the start has been patchy, with major operators such as P&O Australia canceling cruises scheduled for 2022 due to a lack of certainty over the government’s permission to operate.
But the desire to resume business is rekindling tensions between the industry and communities living near current or proposed destinations due to environmental concerns. They say the two-year break should have been used to resolve outstanding issues.
In Queensland, a controversial proposal for a new cruise ship terminal on the Gold Coast has been bailed out, as residents of Sydney’s Yarra Bay scramble to prevent a new terminal from being built.
Penny Davidson of the Jervis Bay Community Cruiseship Coalition said questions remained unanswered from the NSW government, which she said has treated the issue in a confused and opaque manner.
The NSW Port Authority has repeatedly denied plans to open the Marine Park to cruise ships, but a draft NSW Continental Marine Park Management Plan names Jervis Bay in Ministry of Primary Industries plans to boost cruise tourism in regional areas.
Meanwhile, cruise lines are selling tickets that include Jervis Bay on the itinerary, raising concerns that decisions were made behind closed doors.
“Our concern is that once you introduce this for one, you won’t be able to say no to the others,” Davidson says. “Considering our fragile environment, have they carried out studies to show that current levels of use are not already damaging our ecosystem without adding more pressure? “
A spokesperson for the Port Authority of NSW said the agency took over management of the minor ports at Jervis Bay in 2018 and ‘inherited a situation’ where cruise ships were permitted by Marine Park Authority to spend the night in the area.
They said Jervis Bay was not considered a cruise destination after discussions with Shoalhaven City Council and that the authority was taking that consultation in future decisions.
The Ministry of Primary Industries has been contacted for comment.
A familiar problem
Professor Susanne Becken, who teaches sustainable tourism at Griffith University, says the situation facing Jervis Bay and other communities is a “very familiar” story.
From Vanuatu to Canada’s Northwest Passage, the pressure to open up new areas to the cruise industry is relentless, but decisions are often made without detailed independent research into economic benefits or environmental impact, she says. .
“No one really knows how much economic benefit the industry brings and no one really knows how much pollution it is,” Becken said.
“If you’re building a new road, you have a very comprehensive cost-benefit analysis and community consultation. The need for independent data is really important here.
The pollution generated by industry should not be underestimated. As floating hotels that transport hundreds of people at once through some of the world’s most pristine and fragile ecosystems, cruise ships generate an average of 2,358 m³ of gray water and treated wastewater, 84 m³ of oily waste and 266 m³ of solid waste per week, under normal conditions.
And the moment a passenger boards a cruise ship, their carbon footprint triples thanks to the “bunker fuel” that ships burn. Bunker fuel is poor quality fuel made from the dregs of the petroleum refining process and is hazardous to human health.
Before global efforts to reduce the amount of sulfur in this fuel took effect in 2020, bunker fuel was believed to be responsible for 400,000 deaths worldwide from lung cancer and 14 million cases of asthma. . Even with the new regulations, fuel is expected to cause 250,000 deaths per year.
Becken says “latent risks” also include the potential for accidental and deliberate spills.
In 2016, a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise was fined $ 40 million when it was discovered that crews aboard its ships in the UK and the US were using a makeshift diversion known in the industry under the name of “magic pipe” to discharge thousands of liters of untreated oily water. in the ocean.
Coupled with the physical impact of anchors tearing off the seabed, noise pollution from increased ship traffic and the cumulative pressure of building supportive infrastructure such as jetties or bus terminals, shipping cruising can be a dirty deal.
The industry says it is working to improve itself. A spokesperson for the Cruise Lines International Association said its oceanic members are committed to continuing “a carbon neutral cruise by 2050” and are supporting research efforts to develop zero-emission fuels.
The spokesperson said the industry in Australia was covered by several levels of state and federal regulation which “include strict measures covering discharges such as sewage and ballast.”
They said Australia had adopted a global regulation known as “Marpol” aimed at improving the quality of marine fuel, and cited the industry body’s waste management policy which “prohibits the discharge of untreated wastewater at sea, anytime, anywhere, in the world ”.
“We need the best standards in the world”
Although industry and government refer to these regulations to allay concerns, others in affected communities say they are broad enough to fit a cruise ship.
Kate Horrobin is among the residents living near Sydney’s White Bay Cruise Terminal, who have worked to get authorities to respond to health and environmental concerns since it opened in 2013.
Around this time, she says, residents began to compare notes on headaches and asthma attacks, which they believed to be related to inhaling exhaust fumes from idling cruise ships to the terminal.
“You will hear people say that our problems were solved thanks to the Marpol regulations, but they are meant as a standard when they are floating in the sea,” Horrobin says. “You can still go straight into Sydney Harbor by burning 0.5% sulfur fuel. We need it to come down to 0.1%.
Horrobin says the industry may be anxious to go after the pandemic, but for her, it was a “great vacation” and “complete relief” from pollution from cruise ships.
She wants the NSW government to build ‘dock-to-ship power’ so that cruise ships can turn off their engines when in port.
“It’s a do no harm policy,” says Horrobin. “Our attitude is: come back, but by coming back you have to adhere to the best standards in the world, not the worst in the world. And you must protect the health and the environment of the communities you work with.