Coastlines and cruises

Posted: 26 June 2008

The seaside - beaches, coastlines and islands - is the most popular type of holiday destination. Unfortunately, they are also being destroyed at the greatest speed.

Beach resort and recent tourism development, Sal Island, Cape Verde. © WWF-Canon / Olivier Van Bogaert
Beach resort and recent tourism development, Sal Island, Cape Verde. © WWF-Canon / Olivier Van Bogaert
Beach resort and recent tourism development, Sal Island, Cape Verde© WWF-Canon/ Olivier Van Bogaert

  • According to the European Cruise Council Statistics in 2007, the UK cruise market showed an 11 per cent growth and exceeded 1.3 million passengers. This growth can be attributed to a number of factors including the increase in capacity. Forecasts for 2008 predict a continuous growth with the anticipated number of cruises reaching 1.5 million, a 12 per cent rise on 2007 ( ).
  • After the UK and Germany, Italy is the third largest cruise market in Europe. The Mediterranean and Atlantic islands account for 50 per cent of the market while Northern Europe accounts for 28 percent (European Cruise Council Statistics).
  • According to the results of the European Cruise Contribution report 2007, the cruise industry generates €1.7 billion of direct expenditure in the UK and accounts for almost 40,000 UK jobs. The cruise industry is already responsible for more than 180,000 jobs across Europe and is expected to grow by more than 50,000 by 2010 ( ).
  • Between 1995 and 2005, demand for cruising worldwide more than doubled from 5.7 million to 14.4 million passengers. The rapid growth is expected to continue with 4 million Europeans taking cruise holidays by 2010 and 5 million by 2015 (
  • According to Martha Honey (Ecotourism and Sustainable Development Who Owns Paradise? 2008),"cruise ship vacations are the fastest growing sector of the leisure travel industry with ship size and numbers, passengers and ports and profits all on the rise." Nearly 90 per cent of cruise ships ply the waters in just six regions - Caribbean, Mediterranean, Alaska, Mexican Riviera, Western and Northern Europe and Asia Pacific.
  • Governments in Mediterranean countries have favoured the rapid development and building of infrastructure to support the large number of tourists visiting the region each year and this has caused serious erosion and pollution problems in many places along the coast. Tourism often concentrates in areas of high natural reserves and has caused threats to Mediterranean marine life such as sea turtles and monk seals (
  • Ships carrying more than 3000 passengers and crew each produce approximately 30,000 gallons of raw sewage a day, equivalent to a small city. It is estimated that in one year, the North American cruise industry generates 50,000 tons of food waste and 100,000 tons each on glass, tin and burnable waste (Ecotourism and Sustainable Development - Who Owns Paradise? - Martha Honey 2008).
  • Save the Waves, with its Chile Programme Initiative is tackling pollution from pulp mills which is seriously affecting the water quality and threatening the health of local residents, the ocean and many rivers. This includes a water testing programme to monitor water quality (see for more details).

Beach erosion Coastal development often leads to erosion, because buildings act as windbreaks and alter patterns of sand movement.

  • On the west coast of Barbados, some beaches have been reported as receding at a rate of 1.5 metres per decade.
  • Sand mining is another cause of environmental degradation and in areas like Tobago, an increase in sand mining coincided with a boom in tourism (Last Resorts - The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean - Polly Pattullo, 2005).
Coral and mangroves

Coral is a major tourist attraction. But, ironically, the building of resorts to meet this demand often damages reefs. Boat anchor, divers and snorkellers can all damage coral. Sewage and pollutants from resorts discharge into the ocean, poisoning the living organisms of the reef. Reefs are over-fished to meet tourist demands and destroyed to reclaim offshore land for building. However, the greatest threat to coral reefs may be rising sea temperatures due to global warming - to which air travel is a major contributor. It is predicted that global warming will cause extensive flooding in coastal areas, and the eventual submersion of low-lying states such as the Maldives within 25 years. The Maldives is further suffering from coral bleaching due to rising sea temperatures.

  • Approximately, 14 per cent of the world's coral reefs are found in the Caribbean region. All over the Caribbean, environmentalists and divers have reported stories of reef abuse such as tourists destroying shallow exposed coral by walking on it or souvenir shops looting the reef of stock or scuba divers breaking coral branches with their diving equipment.
  • Globally some 90 per cent of all reefs are considerably damaged (Last Resorts - The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean - Polly Pattullo, 2005).
  • Rapid and uncontrolled tourist development taking place in the Bahamas such as the building of the Bimini Bay Resort and Casino are destroying large parts of mangrove forests and shallow seagrass lagoons which are amongst the most productive marine ecosystems. Researchers have recorded a dramatic decline in biological productivity due to the destruction of these habitats of many highly endangered species such as the small tooth sawfish (see and for more details).
  • There is unrestrained large scale development taking place in the British Virgin Islands where, encouraged by the local government, developers from US/Hong Kong/UK are buying up large chunks of land for tourist development. The islands consisting of only around 20,000 inhabitants already sees more than 300,000 tourists a year, a far greater number than it can actually sustain. Major environmental damage such as huge destruction of mangroves and pristine ecological habitat is already been seen along with severe social impacts on the local population (see for detailed information).
  • The Galapagos Islands are at risk due to tourist related development activities. The number of tourists in the Galapagos has grown from 40,000 in 1990 to over 140,000 in 2006.The growth of tourism and population with an increasing number of cruise ships and passenger boats which then stimulate more arrival of tourists, decrease the isolation of the archipelago, and instead bring in new invasive species, which are the biggest threat to local biodiversity (The Galapagos Conservation Trust, ).

This section was compiled by Junie Wadhawan from Tourism Concern.