For the first time in history, a cruise ship is set to traverse the Northwest Passage. This trip, scheduled for 2016, will take passengers from Alaska to New York on a luxury 32 day cruise. According to the company, Crystal Cruises, it will combine adventure with high luxury on the Arctic Ocean.
However, there’s been an incredible backlash against this trip. While 14 naturalists and environmentalists will be on board, guiding visitors through the glacial wilderness, the ship itself seems less than environmentally friendly.
So unfriendly, in fact, that it is said to produce more than triple the carbon of a 747 on a per mile, per person basis.
The Northwest Passage has always been too narrow for a cruise ship to cross, due to ice. But thanks to extensive research (and extensive glacial melt), Crystal Cruises should now be able to safely pass. However, many in the environmental community are worried about the damage this might do to the Northwest Passage.
Although it’s been known about for centuries, very few manage to make it up to, let alone navigate around this arctic region. Home to rich biodiversity including penguins, polar bears, elk, wolves and a large number of birds, the intrusion of tourists along the passage could prove harmful for the wildlife.
The cruise has been dubbed, “environmental disaster tourism” by Popular Science, who went on to state, “Thanks to an offering by a luxury cruise line, customers can take a cruise through the newly navigable arctic, and try to see polar bears struggling to stay alive on what remains of Arctic ice.”
Sure enough, the experts on board are tasked to discuss the issues of climate change and the effects they are having on the surrounding glaciers. But if visiting swathes of melting glacial ice increases the carbon levels in the area, is it really worth it?
Well, perhaps not worth it, although it does certainly come at a price. The trip starts at $20,000 and extends up to $40,000, depending on the client’s choice of accommodation. Although Crystal Cruises has stated they are using a low-sulfur fuel, which runs well within the emissions boundaries set up by environmental agencies, if this becomes a popular and long-running trip, the carbon emissions in the Northwest Passage could rise exponentially.
This impact of tourism on the environment is not a new problem.
In Antarctica, tourism has resulted in a number of tragedies and concerns over the remote, pristine environment.
Among these concerns is the introduction of microbes and exotic insects, creating long-ranging impacts that the tourist industry there has failed to consider. Neil Gilbert, an environmental manager who studies the continent has said, “The Antarctic Peninsula … is one of if not the most rapidly warming part of the globe…We really don’t know what additional impact that those tourism numbers … are having on what is already a very significantly changing environment.”
Another official on the continent tells of tourists not following rules and contaminating the isolated region. “We hear horror stories every season…A group will come ashore from a national program and they’re on their day off … and they’re breaking the rules, right and left, smoking and getting too close to the animals.”
If the Northwest Passage is turned into a prime tourism destination, conservationists worry the same problems could befall this remote region of the globe. Meaning that for indigenous wildlife and tribes that have existed here for centuries, the days of a remote unspoiled wilderness are long gone.