Activists Against Royal Caribbean’s $200 Million Expansion at Coco Cay

An artist's rendition of the proposed redeveloped Coco Cay. (Image courtesy of the Nassau Guardian)

Local environmentalists are sounding off on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s (RCL) $200 million extensive renovation plan for Coco Cay, with one environmental group having recently described such developments as “bottomless pits”.

In a Facebook post, which has since been deleted, Raising Awareness about the Bahamas Landfill (RABL) spokesperson Heather Carey said, “the cruise ship industry does very little to benefit The Bahamas.”

“We cannot give away any more of our beautiful Bahamas to these bottomless pits,” she said.

Marcie Keever, director of Friends of the Earth’s (FOE) ocean and vessels program, also pointed out the potential impact on the ecosystem of the Berry Islands, where Coco Cay is located.

“What we continue to see is that the cruise lines care about their bottom line and not necessarily about the places they are traveling to and from,” Keever claimed, telling Eyewitness News that the country might be worse off for this kind of project.

Founder of Oceanic Global Foundation (OGF) Lea d’Auriol said, she believes “Royal Caribbean’s renovation plan is promoting an influx of tourism without taking proper measures to ensure sustainability and responsible consumption on the island.”

In an interview with Eyewitness News, d’Auriol further claimed that this apparent impact could be “catastrophic” for the island’s surroundings, citing a potential increase in marine debris and plastic pollution.

According to d’Auriol, what has not seemingly been considered, is the effect that an increase in visitors to the island can have on the natural habitats of Coco Cay.

d’Auriol highlighted as an example, the fact that snorkelers at Coco Cay might not be taught how to properly interact with marine life and the surrounding aquatic ecosystems.

“Touching coral can disrupt their natural habitats and getting too close to aquatic animals, including sea turtles, can cause changes to their feeding and mating habits,” d’Auriol explained.

“Not to mention the damage that common sunscreen can have on the coral reefs.”

Back in 2016, the cruise line contributed $100,000 to complete an educational handbook for travel companies offering shark and ray tours.

To ensure they are keeping in line with best practices when it comes to ocean wildlife, RCCL has also entered into a five year partnership  with the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) ocean tourism and coastal conservation projects, to advance ongoing conservation efforts and continue to drive sustainability within the tourism industry.

However, the local activist claimed this partnership in particular, hardly touches on the environmental impact the cruise line’s fleet of ships has on the oceans, as cruise ships often use bunker fuel, which is thousands of times dirtier than the average diesel used to fuel trucks.

“A lot of the cruise lines own their own islands in the Caribbean and they’re contributing to climate change,” Keever claimed.

“The cruise industry, in general, is a big polluter. The bigger the ships get, the more pollution they generate. Cruise lines which use advanced wastewater treatment systems can discharge anywhere, continuously.”

Since RCL owns Coco Cay, she said she doesn’t believe there are any restrictions on discharging at the island, a detail the cruise line has yet to confirm.

RCL has stated that its Advanced Wastewater Purification (AWP) systems “are twice as stringent as United States (U.S.) federal standards for in-port wastewater discharge.”

As for what this means for Coco Cay and the ecosystem of the Berry Islands, Keever suggested that significant damage could potentially occur thanks to manmade waste being introduced to the pristine environment.

“There’s a great chance [that] antibiotics, medicine and everything else that comes in human waste, are going right into the reefs, impacting the ocean in a relatively shallow place,” she claimed.

RCL has stated on its website that it has a “responsibility to the guests who sail with us, the people who work for us, and the communities we visit, but most critically we have a responsibility to the oceans, which are at the very essence of our business.”

The statement on the website continues, “For nearly 40 years, our company has carried out its strong commitment to environmental stewardship by following strict company policies, practices, regulations and special initiatives that we call Above and Beyond Compliance. The initiatives help us achieve the highest possible standards of environmental and community stewardship.

“One such initiative is our Save the Waves program, which was established in 1992 as a program that focused on waste management and evolved into a company-wide philosophy of social responsibility and sustainability practices that guide many facets of our business.”

Additionally, the company said, its ships are continuously built and retrofitted to operate more efficiently with less impact on the environment.

Sustainability and environmental protection is an ongoing effort at RCL, the statement continues.

“With the help of our employees, partners, guests and other like-minded collaborators, we will continue to uphold our commitment to protecting our resources and achieve the highest possible standards in the process.”