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Icon of the Seas: Is this Progress or Distress on the Horizon?

Updated: Jan 31

Why do we celebrate these pollution-leaking ships in our region? Shouldn't we be working towards a more sustainable future?

Screenshot of Facebook Post by Saint Kitts and Nevis Politician and longest serving Prime Minister, Hon. Denzil Llewellyn Douglas (30.01.24)

Today, our neighbouring island, St. Kitts, is celebrating the inaugural visit of Icon of the Seas as the first destination on its 7-day trip. The community has taken to Facebook in celebration of this momentous occasion. The moment the ship maneuvered in the harbor was described as a "fantastic moment," "proud moment," and "totally awesome," with some commenting, "This is history in the making." For a minute there, I wondered, what are we really celebrating here? Then I found out that the Pilot who skillfully guided the world's largest cruise ship in the harbour to dock, was a Kittitian, Captain Ludell Harvey-Lloyd.  Okay, I get it! Rightfully, we celebrate the achievements of our people when they excel at the top of their profession on the international stage. Certainly, the Pilot's expertise and local knowledge are essential, and his work is, "A Big Deal."

Photo credit: St. Christopher Air & Port Authority. Captain Ludell Harvey Lloyd pictured in the foreground.

Also, these mega cruisers are an impressive piece of human engineering, and the island backdrop of our paradise islands make for a sight to behold.

Screenshot of Facebook Post by Saint Kitts and Nevis Politician and longest serving Prime Minister, Hon. Denzil Llewellyn Douglas (30.01.24)

Even here in Montserrat, members of our community see the arrival of mega cruisers to the shores of the Caribbean as a signal of progress. But I can't help but cringe at the intensive growth of cruise tourism in this region and globally. Let's pause and ponder the likely impact on our islands.

It is a fact that the bigger the cruise ships are, the more polluting they are. Environmentalists have also raised the alarm, cautioning that LNG-powered 'Icon of the Seas.' may leak harmful methane into the air. While LNG burns cleaner than traditional fuels, there's a risk of methane escape, a potent greenhouse gas. Methane's impact on our climate cannot be underestimated.

I agree with Dr. Sarah Frias-Torres of the Smithsonian Marine Station., " In a recent LinkedIn post, " In this era of #climatecrisis and #biodiversitycrisis, during an active #elniño year, where we teeter on the edge of the 1.5°C threshold, detrimental to coral reefs, these ships seem to take us in the wrong direction. " We should track the data because, as one contributor to Sarah's post commented, " if the leaked amount of methane is more than the carbon saved from not burning heavy fuel oil, this ship is not a good idea."

If we must go big, superyachts feel more palatable to me. Low-carbon, smaller environmental footprint options are the way forward. Higher-spending guests, more personalized experiences, low footfall, and, at least for Montserrat, developing real estate for Yatch moorings seems a more progressive direction. Smaller yachts have a smaller draft, allowing them to access smaller, more remote islands, opening up opportunities to explore hidden gems and showcase the amazing biodiversity of our islands.

With a maximum of 7,600 passengers, Icon of the Sea is nearly twice the population of my home Island of Montserrat - an overwhelming thought. I'm proud that Montserrat's Tourism approach is more value-driven than numbers-driven. There is a limit to the number of people and traffic we want at a beach, in a cave, on a hike, or even at any Watersport attraction on a single day before the pressure on the ecosystem becomes unsustainable. My vision for our region is to attract more higher-spending stay-over guests, scientists, and innovators who can immerse themselves in the local community, culture, and heritage.

Let's question the true contribution of the Icon of the Seas and other mega cruisers to our local economies in the Caribbean and weigh the cost to nature. At the very least the cruise industry should be held accountable with more monitoring and regulation to prevent or minimize the growing negative environmental and human health impacts. But how do we do that without adequate resources and infrastructure? We must rethink this approach to development and blue prosperity in the Caribbean. We need to get Smarter about Tourism in the region.

I have some ideas for that and would love to know your thoughts. Check out the Smart(er) Tourism Model, as an exploratory option. It's not a one-size-fits-all, but we need to start thinking outside- of the box and investing significantly more resources in new ideas and more sustainable tourism models, especially those with the potential to scale. Innovation is not a luxury in our region. It's a matter of survival!

Join the conversation and share your thoughts!

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