The Environmental Impact of Cruise Ships on Marine Wildlife: Interview with Lucy from Zero Hero Movement


Lucy graduated with a degree in Marine Biology in 2015. Since then she has sought out experiences that show her the marine environment and give her an opportunity to continue learning in a practical way—and working as a marine biologist on cruise ships was part of that. You can follow Lucy’s zero waste journey on her Instagram account @zero_hero_movement and get some food for thought on her blog The Zero Hero Movement.

Fellow zero waster Lucy and I first talked when I posted a video of a cruise ship on my Insta story. I took the video in Stanley Park in Vancouver. Vancouver is a coastal city by the Pacific, where you can spot wildlife like seals relaxing on any of the beaches in the city. Not too far away from Downtown you can even get lucky and see whales from the shores of West Vancouver! Yet this ginormous cruise ship, obviously in full party mode, was playing music so insanely loud, it was like having my headphones on max volume—and we weren’t even on the ship!

I was shocked and angry. Many marine animals rely on echolocation. How could they have so little respect?? Lucy replied to my story, sharing her knowledge as a marine biologist on the impact of large cruise ships and ferries on marine wildlife. 

Lucy, please tell us a bit about how you got into zero waste 😊!

I’ve always been what I’d call a green thinker, the natural world has always held an extreme amount of value to me, I recognised it’s worth very early on in life and made sure to educate myself on the best ways to help it. Before returning to university I was working in waste management, managing a team who provided ‘closed loop’ recycling schemes for other companies. This sparked my interest in our consumption as a species and raised questions about where all our waste really goes.

In my mid twenties I returned to university to study marine biology, it was a combination of these two things that lead me to the realisation that only by reducing what we use can we prevent harmful plastics ending up in the environment. Zero waste aims are the only realistic options we have if we wish to preserve the planet from plastic pollution, with increasing demand for zero waste living we can shift the global economy.

I love the name you chose—“Zero Hero Movement”! It is so positive and embodies the social spirit that I, a lone wolf, really admire. What is your blog and your Instagram about?

The name Zero Hero Movement really is about empowering people to realise they can make a positive impact on the world. I dislike the idea that ‘one person can’t make an impact’ I simply don’t accept that! I consider myself a pretty ordinary person, I am no different from anyone else and I really want to inspire people and show people that they CAN make a difference. Community is a concept that is very important to me, I like to support others when they are trying to achieve something for the greater good and I also love learning through others. I thought, maybe someone could learn from my journey, so that’s really what I’m doing, sharing my journey and engaging with others in the hope that ethical practises become the norm.

Lucy, you told me that you used to work on large cruise ships and ferries monitoring marine wildlife. Who hired you? Are those ships required to have an expert such as yourself on board?

I have worked for a conservation charity and this involved living and working on large cruise ships and ferries in various locations around the world. These ships are under no obligation to have marine biologists onboard but it’s a big green tick on their resume and also provides an extra element of ‘entertainment’ for passengers on their journey. It is a fantastic opportunity for charities and organisations to utilise these vessels which sail regularly to monitor marine wildlife whilst also educating the public. It’s an incredible opportunity to make a positive difference for the oceans.


The music isn’t the biggest problem, you told me, but the engines that reverberate through the water louder than the music. How does that impact marine animals?

Sound travels five times faster through water than it does in air, these ships are huge floating hotels and you can hear the engines whilst onboard so you can be certain that they can be heard clearly in the water for quite some distance. The way this affects marine animals still isn’t completely understood, of course many animals hear or interpret sound in different ways so you would need to look at this from a species by species point of view. Whales and dolphins however, are extremely dependent on sound, using their advanced communication skills. Some use echolocation to hunt their prey, navigating through the oceans, passing on important messages to each other. If the ocean is already full of noise, it makes their efforts much more hard work. It’s like me trying to have a conversation with you from the opposite side of a busy highway, we just wouldn’t hear each other.

What are other environmental issues?

The main issue with any activity at sea is the extreme lack of policing available. The oceans are huge, a ship of any kind can be out at sea for days without any authorities crossing their path. If a ship wishes to flush chemicals into the water, they can and no one will ever know it was them, if fishing fleets want to throw tons of by catch over board they can and no one will ever know it was them, if a cargo vessel loses a container at sea, they can sail away and claim they didn’t realise until they get to their desired port. There are many regulations to try and help protect the oceans from a wide array of activities, there simply isn’t the force behind it to keep regulations in check.

So you are on those ships, monitoring and, I assume, documenting all the issues. What happens with all the data you collected?

Most often the data is open to analysis by scientists and is used to help influence government environmental decisions. Specific questions need to be asked and one set of data can give you a multitude of information. The hope is that data on marine wildlife will provide a picture of where certain species are and what they use specific regions for, by doing this we can ultimately assign levels of importance to areas of the oceans and then implement protection policies to help preserve not only the animals but also the habitats that they rely on. Without monitoring the oceans and getting an understanding of what’s going on then we have no hope of being able to protect them.

You also told me about Human Rights issues. Can you tell us about that?

Most of the ships I have worked on have been crewed by people from the Philippines. Unfortunately what I have seen is a classic case of the rich exploiting the poor but for some reason it continues to go unnoticed. The people I have lived and worked with onboard these ships work long days, 12+ hours a day in some cases. They do everything that is required to make sure the passengers have nothing to complain about yet regularly receive abuse in the form of racism.

Most of us live for the weekend right? Imagine working 6-10 months without ever having a day off, that’s how these crew members work. Compared to the money they could earn at home it’s a good wage but compared to the predominantly white middle and upper class customers they serve they are barely earning anything at all. 80% of everything they earn is sent back home.

Many of the people I knew had children at home and many of the people I knew were incredibly well educated with multiple degrees/diplomas and well spoken in multiple languages, yet they are resigned with making 100+ beds a day because that is the only way they can earn a worthwhile living and ensure their children get educated and their family have a nicer life. You will never hear them complain though, my friends on these ships are the most resilient and strong minded people I have ever come across.

If I was having a bad day, I knew I could get off the ship once docked and enjoy the fresh air, they could not. Towards the end of my last contract I felt so uncomfortable with the blatant modern day slavery that I told myself I would not work on these ships again, the worst thing a human can do is see an injustice and do nothing but watch. The world at sea has many many loop holes, hence why these practises continue but the one thing I can do, is talk about it and make people aware of the injustice.

Thank you so much, Lucy!

Adopt a Whale 🐳 (or Dolphin 🐬) ❤️

This interview with Lucy really made me think, and I started to read more about the whales here on the Pacific North West. I knew there was a family of orcas living in the waters between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, but imagine how very pleasantly surprised I was when I learned I could adopt one of these orcas!! Adopting an orca helps the NPO Whale and Dolphin Conservation protect them, and you will receive updates on their well-being.

I am so excited about this, and I wanted to share this with you as a gift idea, especially for kids and teenagers 😍! I think it’s just a wonderful way for them to learn about these intelligent creatures, their habitat, and how to protect our oceans 💚!

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