Santa Barbara Channelkeeper Resumes Cruise Ship Monitoring Program

Source: Santa Barbara Channelkeeper

Seventeen cruise ships are scheduled to visit Santa Barbara between March and April this year. With the exception of one, all of them have grades of D or F for water quality impacts, according to Friends of the Earth’s Cruise Ship Monitoring Report Card. Three of the visiting ships receive “F” grades for air pollution. Two of the visiting cruise ship lines committed criminal violations of environmental laws between 2017 to 2021. 

Prompted by concerns such as these, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper’s cruise ship monitoring program has relaunched, and will engage a select number of cruise ships as they arrive in our area. By communicating with captains upon arrival, the organization’s cruise ship monitoring program aims to safeguard the coastal environment and provide accountability through watchful presence. 

Cruise ships generate enormous volumes of waste. A typical cruise ship generates 30,000 gallons of sewage, 250,000 gallons of greywater (wastewater from galleys, showers, sinks, and laundry), 5,000 gallons of oily bilge water, 15 gallons of toxic chemicals, and seven tons of solid waste, as well as air pollution equal to that of 12,000 cars—every day.

The City of Santa Barbara asks that captains make a voluntary commitment to refrain from using incinerators and discharging sewage or greywater within 12 miles of Santa Barbara Harbor. However, monitoring compliance with these agreements relies largely on good faith that the captains and crew will abide by these commitments. Channelkeeper’s cruise ship monitoring program attempts to address monitoring gaps by providing additional vigilance. 

As ships enter the 12-mile, voluntary no-discharge zone, Channelkeeper staff, aboard the organization’s 31-foot vessel, hail the captain via marine radio to remind the crew of the no-discharge commitment and to let them know that Channelkeeper will monitor for discharges during the ship’s time in the Santa Barbara Channel. 

“The cruise ship captains are generally polite, though surprised, to encounter our team out in the Channel,” says Channelkeeper’s Science and Policy Director, Benjamin Pitterle. “It’s clear that they aren’t used to being monitored in most of the places that they travel.”
Channelkeeper recently proposed that the City of Santa Barbara also consider adopting an additional vessel speed reduction requirement as part of the voluntary commitments to lower the risk of ship strikes for whales in our channel. 

From November to May, approximately 19,000 gray whales migrate along the South Coast. In addition, the abundance of krill in the Santa Barbara Channel provides feeding grounds for the largest blue whale population in the world and attracts high densities of several endangered baleen whale species, including humpback and fin whales. These sensitive marine mammals are vulnerable to ship strikes. 

Vessel speed reduction requirements are an effective way to decrease propulsion engine emissions and fuel consumption. The organization believes that an additional vessel speed reduction requirement could help reduce the risk of ship strikes for whales in our channel while also lowering harmful greenhouse gas emissions produced by cruise ships. This recommendation is aligned with current regulations implemented by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District. Channelkeeper also suggested that the City establish a committee to evaluate public opinion of its cruise ship program, especially related to climate change goals.

“We look forward to working with City leaders to identify and help develop solutions that help us reach goals related to climate change and keep our environment, economy, and community healthy,” said Channelkeeper’s Executive Director, Ted Morton.

In the meantime, Channelkeeper staff will continue to monitor cruise ships via regular marine patrols as part of the organization’s ongoing work to help protect water and air quality in the Santa Barbara Channel.

About Santa Barbara Channelkeeper
Santa Barbara Channelkeeper was founded in 1999 as a program of the Environmental Defense Center and became an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 2001. For more than 20 years, the organization has worked to protect water quality, restore aquatic ecosystems, advocate for clean water, enforce environmental laws, and educate and engage citizens in implementing solutions to water pollution and aquatic habitat degradation.


Written by sbck

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper is a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the Santa Barbara Channel and its watersheds. Learn more at

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  1. Yes SACJON. Remove the pollution spewing machines from UCSB!!! It is much to close to the beautiful coast to have that much potential spillage into the environment. No one will die if UCSB is out of power for a day or two. Some of the smartest people who ever lived did it with out the environmental disaster called air conditioning . If you read into the report it specifies how many tens of thousand of gallons diesel and gasoline and how many tanks are on the campus.

  2. Sorry SACJON I should have helped you by not clumping to much together at one time. AC is its own separate environmental disaster. Remember the hole in the Ozone, Skin Cancer?? And yes when the power is out, AC is the biggest draw on the generators. Lighting load is reduced to emergency lighting and that is mostly low draw LED now.

  3. SAIL – I don’t need help, just curious how you think UCSB will operate without generators? It’s far more than AC being powered. Even if just AC, it’s needed for the labs and other facilities that need to remain a certain temperature.
    If you want something as drastic as shutting down and removing all generators at a massive research university, I wonder what the alternative is?

  4. The alternative is not closing down functioning nuclear power plants and mandating unreliable/weather dependent energy sources while simultaneously not providing reliable replacements for the lost generation to avoid rolling brownouts when it gets hot nor hardening our distribution infrastructure to avoid the need to shut down on windy days. But that alternative would require a dose of practically, something that left California over a decade ago and hasn’t looked back.

  5. @2:22 you do know that even when they shut it down the nuclear material stays on-site? They’re not moving it anywhere so why not keep using it while it’s there to provide continued carbon free energy. If you can list a few please do, but I’m rather confident the problems with Diablo and fission power in general are significantly smaller than the continued (and increased if we’re shutting down plants like this) use of fossil fuels for energy. but I wouldn’t expect you to open your eyes to that considering you think climate change is an existential threat to the human race and we’re all doomed to war, famine, and death in a decade if we don’t take extreme action now.

  6. Thank you so much for this important work, Channelkeeper.
    And here’s hoping the pax & crew don’t spread airborne infections onshore as well.
    The Ruby Princess, due here on 4/18, offloaded covid-positive cases in SF a few days ago.

  7. A cruise ship (900–1,100 feet) carries between 1 – 2 million gallons of Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) equals to 23,810 – 46, 620 barrels of oil . HFO’s are extremely viscous, break down slowly and extremely hard to clean up. This could create an environmental disaster if the ship were to run aground and leak.
    The 1969 Santa Barbara Oil spill involved 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of oil . Within a ten-day period, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 barrels (13,000 to 16,000 m3) of crude oil spilled into the Channel and onto the beaches of Santa Barbara County in Southern California, fouling the coastline from Goleta to Ventura as well as the northern shores of the four northern Channel Islands. The spill had a significant impact on marine life in the Channel, killing an estimated 3,500 sea birds, as well as marine animals such as dolphins, elephant seals, and sea lions. The public outrage engendered by the spill, which received prominent media coverage in the United States, resulted in numerous pieces of environmental legislation within the next several years, legislation that forms the legal and regulatory framework for the modern environmental movement in the U.S

  8. SAIL – I’m not anti-cruise ship, but curious how UCSB pollutes and dumps waste? Do they not use our city sewer system? How many buildings are running giant diesel engines? Does UCSB pollute/expel waste more than other facilities? Honestly curious.

  9. Princess Cruise was so sorry for dumping in the ocean
    But that didn’t last long Tuesday, January 11, 2022
    Princess Cruise Lines Pleads Guilty to Second Revocation of Probation
    Company Convicted of Violating Court Ordered Environmental Compliance Program
    Princess was convicted and sentenced in April 2017 and fined $40 million after pleading guilty to felony charges stemming from its deliberate dumping of oil-contaminated waste from one of its vessels and intentional acts to cover it up. This was and remains the largest-ever criminal fine for intentional pollution from ships. While serving five years of probation, all Carnival-related cruise line vessels trading in U.S. ports were required to comply with a court approved and supervised environmental compliance plan (ECP), including audits by an outside and independent third-party auditor (TPA) and oversight by a Court Appointed Monitor (CAM).
    In 2019, Princess was convicted of six violations of probation, fined an additional $20 million, and required to undertake more remedial measures. In that case, two of the violations involved interfering with the court’s supervision of probation by sending undisclosed teams to ships to prepare them for the independent inspections required during probation. Documents filed in court showed that one purpose of the vessel visit programs was to avoid adverse findings by the independent outside auditors working on behalf of the court.
    Beginning with the first year of probation, there have been repeated findings that the Company’s internal investigation program was and is inadequate. In November 2021, the Office of Probation issued a petition to revoke probation after adverse findings by the CAM and TPA.
    In an October 2021 letter to U.S. District Court Judge Patricia A. Seitz, the CAM and TPA concluded that the continuing failure “reflects a deeper barrier: a culture that seeks to minimize or avoid information that is negative, uncomfortable, or threatening to the company, including to top leadership (i.e., the Board of Directors, C-Suite executives and Brand Presidents/CEOs).”

  10. Anyone remember the Costa Concordia which sank in 2012? 32 people died and it ended up costing 2 billion.
    Most if not all Cruise ships that anchor in Santa Barbara are owned by Carnival. In 2018 a federal judge wanted to ban Carnival from all ports in the USA .
    According to court filings, reported by the Miami Herald, the cruise line “sought to avoid unfavorable findings by preparing ships in advance of court-ordered audits, falsified records, dumped plastic garbage into the ocean and illegally discharged gray water into Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.”

  11. Seeing a whole hell of a lot rant here against the cruise ships, and for good reason. But wait. SB voters – yes, it’s (a majority of) you SB edhatters take a look in the mirror. The majority of you have chosen these leaders, and your chosen leaders encourage the cruise ships to keep on coming.
    You can’t have it both ways.

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