Viewpoint: Let’s not return to pollution as usual 

By Roberta A. Chester 

Bar Harbor residents should take note of the fact that as of the vote on Nov. 3, Key West residents passed a referendum with the following provisions:  

Passengers disembarking from cruise ships will be limited to 1,500; cruise ships with 1,300 or more passengers will be prohibited from unloading; and docking priority will be given to cruise ships having the best environmental and health records.  

Opposing the local Chamber of Commerce, some shopkeepers and the Walsh family (owners of Pier B), whom it is assumed will file a lawsuitthese voters are setting an example by putting their own welfare and that of the environment above vested commercial interests. 

Like Bar Harbor, where every dollar from the cruise ships goes back into supporting the industry through infrastructure expenses, the residents felt that the $91,000 earned after expenses associated with the cruise ships, was outweighed by health risks, environmental damage and the negative effects on their quality of life.  

Global Cruise Activist Network, based in Alaska, was watching the vote in Key West whether such a referendum could be a model to curb cruise ship traffic elsewhere. Speaker Karla Hunt sees this initiative as a test for democracy, i.e., do “port communities have an inalienable right to determine the size and number of cruise ships visiting their towns 

The website provides information about Carnival Cruise Lines (the biggest in the industry whose ships dock here), warning about allowing the cruise ships to return to pollution as usual. Besides accelerating the COVID pandemic, the site documents the extent and consequences of toxic fuel and millions of tons of raw sewerage. Carnival Cruise lines paid millions for dumping in Alaska, but these fines are miniscule compared to their revenue; besides, ours is a big ocean and it is impossible to monitor lawbreakers when it is unlikely that anyone would be looking.   

It is acknowledged that “ocean heat waves” have occurred in the Gulf of Maine, which is now warming faster than any other of the world’s oceans, and is, in fact, losing its subarctic characteristics, resulting in a rise in the sea level, flooding and contamination of ground water aquifers. Besides the erosion of our coastal beaches, subarctic and boreal marine species are moving northward, while temperate species from the south invade our waters.  

 This report documents that ocean acidity levels have risen 30 percent, affecting greenhouse gas levels, aquaculture and the marine organisms that produce calcium carbonate to build their shells. Whether you are an atheist or a creationist, how can we not ask what can possibly justify continuing this flagrant disregard of our obligation to be responsible caretakers of our remarkably beautiful world?  

We are fast approaching a tipping point when the overwhelming evidence and the outcry against cruise ships will be enough to defeat the commercial interests that have prevailed so far. Port communities are reacting to the health and environmental dangers of cruise ships, realizing that commercial gains come at a terrible quality-of-life cost for us and for all the creatures that depend on us to curb our appetite for commercial gains before it is too late to halt the damage. 

It has long been obvious that we have one ocean and one ecosystem and we have a moral imperative to protect the environment, our health, the integrity of our ocean and marine life. For too many years in Bar Harbor, it seems as if we are congratulating ourselves on our popularity, as the number of ships insanely increases, directly proportionate to reports of the damage they cause in their wake.  

We live in an unequalled gem of nature where we can pride ourselves on groups devoting their efforts to a climate to thrive and working to realize zero waste. Many of us have pledged to diminish our use of plastics, purchase environmentally friendly products, compost organic waste, etc. Given these commendable developments, another mindset, directly opposed to these principlesis waiting – post COVID – to welcome the cruise ships, thereby nullifying our efforts.  

COVID has had an unexpected positive effect on the environmental consciousness in numerous port cities, which will, in increasing numbers, force cruise lines to retire their ships. It will be shameful if we are still putting profits over people, disregarding the peril to the ocean we share with the port cities, which, like Key West, are eliminating or putting strict limits on cruise ships. Our ocean is a joint responsibility and a sacred obligation from which no country, no city, no town and no person is exempt.  

If you haven’t noticed, the water at Sand Beach is no longer bone-chillingly cold. The intricately carved stone bench where I sat 45 years ago, at high tide, has now disappeared under water.  

Roberta A. Chester resides in Bar Harbor 

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