The Dirty Secret of The Azores Cruise Industry
The recent tourism boom in the Azores; a Portuguese archipelago in the mid-Atlantic has seen the once-thriving agriculture sector fall into decline, as more service-based jobs takeover this small island archipelago. Historically a new topic of discussion in the Azores, is the benefits of tourism for the region, with very little consideration being put forward into the economic and environmental burdens that come with increased tourism to this autonomous region. The 9 autonomous islands in the mid-Atlantic have always played a strategic role in trans-Atlantic trade between Europe and North America, with the American Airbase of Lajes being located on the island of Terceira.The 240,000 residents of these nine islands have always been strong and resilient people. Hard work was the rule, not the exception. A land of dairy farmers, fishermen, farmers, and gardeners this region has always been known as the “floating gardens of the Atlantic”. Here anything and everything grows. The island produces everything that is needed to live self-sufficient with very little need for imports of food. Fruits and vegetables, an ideal location in the mid-Atlantic- with its abundance of fish and more cattle than there are people in the region; which produces dairy, cheese, and beef, are only some of the self resilient aspects of the Azorean lifestyle and economy.The global economic downturn of 2008 which hit all corners of the globe had hit the Portuguese economy especially hard with both Moodys and Standards and Poor downgrading Portugal’s credit rating which then had the ripple effect on the bond markets of the Azores and Madeira archipelagos. The increased cost of borrowing and the lack of international credit markets willingness to make loans or roll over Portugal’s debt hit the heavily indebted region hard, with Portugal being one of the most indebted countries in the world. The German chancellor Angela Merkel the leader of Germany; the financial powerhouse of Europe, in a speech regarding the P.I.G.S.(Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain) economies noted the exceptional beauty of Portugal and emplored the countries leaders and representatives to market their beautiful beaches and enchanting villages to a new era of international travelers. Portugal; often considered the barefoot sister compared to its EU neighbors Spain, France, and Italy was never a destination for sunseekers but more for emigrants returning to visit family and retired German and English pensioners.Since 2010 the slow but steady increase of tourists to the region had begun to start helping the Portuguese economy rebound from the credit crisis and Portugal paid off early its EU emergency loans it had received along with Greece, Italy, and heavily debted Spain. The Portuguese economy seemed to be moving in the black with tourists investing heavily in the country through tourism and its Golden Visa Program. The banks began to lend again and business and life seemed to be back to normal in Portugal and its archipelagos. The Azores was seeing international recognition as an unspoiled paradise in the mid-Atlantic and the increased marketing and promotion of the region and its products predominantly the famous Cha Gorreana tea which has been cultivated in the region since the 19th century and is the only remaining region in Europe to produce tea; the world’s 2nd most consumed beverage. The initial exposure from so many publications and articles on the recently discovered teas from the Azores lead to international awareness of these remote islands and all the beauty and intrigue that they offer. More recently the cruise industry with the port in Ponta Delgada the capital of the Azores on Sao Miguel Island being expanded has seen in the Spring to Fall months, sometimes 2-3 cruise ships daily arriving from their transatlantic crossings. Madeira the wealthy Portuguese archipelago just south of the Azores and above the Canary Islands has always been the preferred transatlantic port for Cruise ships to visit on their Atlantic crossings. However, the last 7 years have seen a dramatic increase in cruise ships arriving in the Azores which if not carefully examined could have detrimental effects both for the environment and for the health and economy of the region. According to the Roundtable on Human Rights in Tourism Association a non-profit headquartered in Germany “Cruise companies and cruise ships negatively impact communities through air and water pollution, economic leakage and tax avoidance, as well as over-tourism. Such negative impacts can arise where cruise companies are based, where they pass through, and where they dock.”Even though some cruise companies have responded to pollution issues when building new ships in recent years, most cruise liners still score badly when it comes to emissions, treatment of sewage, and noise pollution. Most cruise ships sail with cheap heavy oil, which is particularly toxic and harmful to the environment. Furthermore, many cruise ships use outdated technology to treat sewage before discharging it into the sea, resulting in significant amounts of fecal bacteria, heavy metals, and nutrients entering the open water, with negative impacts on ecosystems. There have also been reports of cruise ships throwing waste overboard. Cruise ships mostly keep their engines running, including when docked. Related air pollution can have negative health impacts on residents living near the port.Cruise ships commonly sail under the flags of a small group of countries that are considered tax havens by the OECD and have weak labor laws, enabling cruise owners to avoid taxes, provide poor working conditions and wages, and follow potentially dangerous security practices. While cruise liners profit from systems and public services in the places they operate most, they generally do not pay taxes to these places. As passengers eat most of their meals onboard, shop at cruise company-owned duty-free shops, and participate in excursions organized by the cruise company, very little money they spend flows into the economies of the local communities they visit.Opinions about the responsibility of cruises for overtourism are divided. Regardless, it is clear that cruise passengers temporarily overflow certain destinations when docking, which is particularly harmful to small destinations. In some places, protests against overtourism have targeted the cruise industry. In the United Kingdom, local environmental groups have demonstrated that a single cruise ship can emit as much pollution as 700 trucks and as much particulate matter as a million cars. It has been estimated that between 40,000 and 100,000 Britons die prematurely every year as a result of emissions from the shipping and cruise industries.One of the main issues is that the amount of pollution to the air even while docked for the day in the Port is equivalent almost to having 1 million cars on the road. So if you are seeing 3-4 cruise ships a week arriving in the small port of Ponta Delgada that is equivalent to millions of cars on the road and those effects alone on a region with already alarming cancer rates compared to the rest of its EU partners will only hurt the Azorean economy and its people while exploiting and ruining the very charm that makes these 9 islands the unspoiled paradise they are. I implore local authorities and politicians to dive into this topic further as the effects on the coastal and marine life of the Azores are also at stake. Considered one of the best regions to see dolphins and whales as they pass through the region annually for their migratory patterns. Hundreds of species pass through the clean and safe north Atlantic waters that surround the Azores archipelago and the increased presence of large floating cities on the sea will begin to ruin and harm yet another aspect of the local environment which then has the ripple effect of affecting other species and regions as well. I think the limit of cruise ships to the Azorean ports is necessary to keep the balance and environmental obligations needed to limit global warming and preserve the delicate Macaronesian ecosystem that still exists here in the Azores.
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