More and more cruise ships figure in what can be called an environmental disaster, leaving in their wake damaged coral ecosystems that will take decades to recover.

The most recent of which involves a ship owned by a small British cruise company. It smashed into the pristine coral reefs off Indonesia on March 4.

The MS Caledonian's GPS and radar system were of no help when it sailed on shallow waters and smashed into the 17,222 square feet of coral reefs in Raja Ampat.

"A tugboat ... was deployed to help refloat the cruise ship, which is something that shouldn't have happened because it damaged the reef even worse," Ricardo Tapilatu, head of University of Papua's Research Center for Pacific Marine Resources, said.

Threats To Coral Ecosystem

Human-caused destruction ranks along with global warming and ocean acidification as threats that endanger the existence of coral reefs worldwide.

Several incidents in the past involved cruise and cargo ships destroying coral reefs by smashing into them or running aground.

In April 2010, the Australian Federal Police took into its custody a Chinese cargo ship after it ran aground in Douglas Shoal at the Great Barrier Reef. Before it, the massive coral reef suffered at least three major ship groundings.

That same year in August, two container vessels collided off Mumbai in India, causing an oil spill and damaging mangroves along with marine life. Eight days later, a cargo ship ran into the coral reef near off the Kavaratti Island in Lakshadweep.

Bad To Coral Reefs' Health

Cruise ship anchors had caused irreparable damage to some 300 acres of coral reef in George Town, Grand Cayman. In another incident, around 80 percent of the coral reef in Cancun, Mexico was destroyed by a Norwegian cruise ship.

With thousands of tourists aboard the cruise ships, the sheer volume of raw sewage and garbage directly dumped into the sea contributes to the deterioration of marine life and the whole ecosystem.

A lot of food and drinks served to the guests of cruise ships will result in 25,000 gallons of daily sewage from their toilets, and some 170,000 gallons of toxic water from cruise ship sinks, showers, and laundry in addition to shampoos, detergents, and pesticides.

Preventive Measures

Among the measures being explored to preserve the coral reefs include the expansion of the marine protected areas, the installation of an advanced waste treatment system, and garbage management.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth found that most of the modern cruise ships lack an advanced waste treatment system. The group urged the installation of the system but was disregarded by the Cruise Line International Association. By law, large ships are not allowed to dump their sewage within 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) from the nearest coastline.

The Florida Keys National Maritime Sanctuary pioneered the installation of mooring buoys to replace boat anchors that could damage coral reefs. These buoys contain information to assist navigation in regulated areas.

Also, the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations for Virgin Islands National Park mandates that no ship is allowed to attach a rope or wire or to place an anchor to any coral reef structure to avoid the vessel from smashing it.

Indeed, as the old adage says, "An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure."

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