The global ocean cruise industry has expanded rapidly in recent decades, with an annual passenger compound growth rate of 6.63% from 1990-2020. Several factors have contributed to this growth, including increasingly large vessel capacity, greater port availability, new technologies, and on-board and on-shore tourist activities geared to satisfying growing consumer demands.
Cruise activities in the Mediterranean and its adjoining seas are developing fast: in 2007 there were 8.7 million cruise passengers in the Mediterranean, in 2018 there were more than 25 million. Cruise tourism is also rapidly changing as ships have evolved from carrying fewer than a thousand people in the 20th century to today’s mega-cruisers that can hold more than 6,000 guests and 2,000 crew. As a result, their environmental impact is growing in volume and intensity.
These trends are putting increasing pressure on some marine protected areas (MPAs). Cruises operate near and sometimes within many Mediterranean MPAs, posing a serious risk to the conservation of key biodiversity hotspots. Examples are numerous: Portofino MPA (Italy) and Kaş-Kekova Special Protected Area (Turkey) are particularly popular attractions for cruises, while other MPAs such as Calanques National Park (France) or Scandola (France) are located in close proximity to large cruise ports and routes. In the case of Venice, the cruise port is actually located inside a marine Natura 2000 site.
The cruise sector’s pressure on MPAs and other sites of ecological importance is expected to continue to grow, and public authorities across the region have an important role to play in monitoring and managing the overall situation. Clearly, efforts must be made to limit the environmental impacts of cruising as far as possible, particularly in ecologically vulnerable areas – but strategies need to be realistic and practical, acknowledging that the industry is not likely to stop visiting popular destinations. If carefully managed, collaborative multi-stakeholder maritime spatial planning (MSP) processes can go some way towards achieving effective compromises between economic and environmental considerations.
With these processes in mind, this policy brief highlights the key impacts of the cruise sector on Mediterranean MPAs, and proposes priority policy responses.
Annual cruise vessels frequentation in North Mediterranean cruise ports (2016)