• Bryan Payton/ s.Busch

British Columbia “the toilet bowl” of the West Coast

An Alaska Governor vetoing a program that helps to protect the environment and cruise lines dumping waste without risk or penalty.

Excerpt from the original article: Leviathans in the Harbor by Brian PaytonHakai Magazine August 27, 2019


A history of pollution and no penalties

Ross Klein, a sociologist at Memorial University in Newfoundland, began studying the cruise ship industry in the 1990s and is now recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject. He has been called before the US Congress as an expert witness on several occasions and has published extensively on all matters related to cruise travelAlaska is the only jurisdiction in the world where anybody is actually monitoring what cruise ships are discharging,” Klein says.

Despite the success of the program—which was created by ballot initiative and is paid for by a $4 head tax on cruise ship passengers—funding for the Ocean Rangers was vetoed in 2019 by Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, who is the subject of a potential recall initiative. The Ocean Ranger program, although in political limbo, is not dead yet. The state legislature has effectively overridden the governor’s veto, but the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has announced that it does not plan to operate the program as originally intended.

While the high-profile battle over cruise ship monitoring plays out in Alaska, what is all but forgotten is that most Alaska cruises pass though the fabled Inside Passage, which includes the sheltered waters off the coast of British Columbia. The State of Alaska issued citations for nine violations for air quality in 2018. How many did the Governments of British Columbia and Canada issue that year? Has either government evercited violations or assessed penalties for air quality, improper waste discharge, or other environmental violations? Klein laughs at the suggestion.

“Canada doesn’t have regulations to speak of,” he says, “given it doesn’t enforce regulations when it comes to cruise ships.” An independent science panel convened by the Ocean Conservation and Tourism Alliance showed cruise ships discharging wastewater in a marine protected area of British Columbia’s Inside Passage. “This did not appear to capture the attention of Canadian authorities.”

Canada has only issued two citations for environmental violations since 1992, according to Klein, who keeps a list of offenses. During that time, the number of citations issued by the State of Alaska was in the hundreds. He says cruise lines take advantage of Canada’s history of weaker environmental laws, monitoring, and enforcement, and the fact that gray water can be dumped anywhere in Canadian waters. He calls British Columbia “the toilet bowl” of the West Coast.


© 2017 by Stephan Busch