Activists Protest Growing Number of Cruise Ships in Monterey Bay, Despite Protocols

This article was originally published by the Monterey County Weekly.

Protesters who gathered at San Carlos Beach in Monterey on Sunday, Feb. 10 didn’t mind getting wet. They were there to paddle and kayak out into the water, after all, so a little bit of rain wasn’t going to stop them.

More than 100 people turned out to bring attention to the increasing number of cruise ships scheduled to stop in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary this year. Eighteen are scheduled for 2019, up from 11 in 2018, and 13 in 2017. Twenty ships are already scheduled to visit Monterey in 2020.

The cruise ships, which stop in Monterey between winters in Baja California and summers in Alaska, anchor outside Monterey Harbor and ferry passengers to shore via tenders, bringing with them an economic boost during tourism’s slow shoulder seasons.

Of more than 100 protesters from the Monterey Peninsula and Santa Cruz who turned out on Feb. 10, about 75 paddled or kayaked.

Of more than 100 protesters from the Monterey Peninsula and Santa Cruz who turned out on Feb. 10, about 75 paddled or kayaked.

Brent Allen organized the protest based on three concerns: air pollution (emissions from ships being blown onshore), water pollution (potential for accidental discharges) and noise pollution (potential effects on marine mammals).

But such concerns have already been accounted for, officials say. Monterey Harbormaster John Haynes cites sanctuary regulations that cruise ships must abide by in order to visit Monterey Bay.

They must anchor in one of two sandy spots, designated for their minimal impact on underwater reefs. The ships must also be driven by a bar pilot, a specialized captain who is familiar with local hazards and certified to navigate large ships in Monterey Bay.

When ships are anchored offshore they are required to burn clean diesel – similar to the fuel used by cars and trucks – which has fewer pollutants than the bunker oil which is burned out at sea. Additionally, the only discharges cruise ships are permitted to make is of coolant water used on the engine or the generator.

Haynes says cruise ships pose no additional threat that marine mammals don’t already face from the dozen or so ships of similar size that pass through the sanctuary – which extends about 33 miles offshore – daily. One difference is that cruise ships are visible from shore.

“I’m pretty proud of our current program,” Haynes says. “If there are any other ideas for how we could do things differently to improve, we’re open to it. If I thought that this industry was putting the sanctuary at risk, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

The Artania, a 1,260-passenger ship operated by German-based Phoenix Reisen, was scheduled to arrive at 11:30am on the day of the protest, but canceled its arrival due to inclement weather.

Still, Allen called the event a success: “It’s easy for this issue to get drowned out,” he says. “Someone has to speak up for the sanctuary.”