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Great Lakes cruise industry rides wave of sustainability

The resurging Great Lakes cruise industry is charting a course toward sustainability.

An association of cruise lines, tourism agencies, port authorities, U.S. states and Canadian provinces has launched a sustainability pledge for ship operators and local communities in response to increasing demand for sustainable travel options.

The Pearl Mist cruise ship enters Lake Michigan at Holland, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Cruise the Great Lakes.MiBiz magazine reports that Cruise the Great Lakes (CTGL) consulted with cruise ship operators, global cruise organizations, and local communities to create the pledge consisting of 19 commitments in four categories: destination stewardship, air emissions and carbon reduction, wastewater disposal, and recycling.

Environmental sustainability and carbon reduction align with Michigan’s recently announced MI Healthy Climate Plan, whose goal is a carbon-neutral Michigan economy by 2050 to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

David Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan and chairperson of CTGL, said the latest members to join the pledge are the visitors bureaus of Holland and Muskegon, Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, and Pure Michigan, along with the visitors bureau and port authority of Detroit. While not all CTGL members have signed on, Lorenz said he expects most eventually will.

Compliance with the pledge includes using more biofuel and alternative fuel technology, investing in slick hull coatings for fuel efficiency, locally sourcing food, not dumping waste in the lakes, and reusing supplies when possible. Lorenz said some ship operators are working to donate extra food to food pantries, and ports are looking into more sustainable transportation for land excursions.

“There are going to be more ideas that pop up, and I’m sure our members will sign onto those additional ideas,” he said.

Great Lakes cruise lines use relatively small ships, some carrying fewer than 100 passengers. The lakes’ largest and newest cruise ship, Viking Cruises’ 665-foot Viking Octantis, carries 378 passengers plus crew, compared with a modern oceangoing cruise ship’s capacity of 3,000 or more. Octantis will welcome a sister ship, Viking Polaris, to the Great Lakes for the 2023 cruise season.

The newer and larger ships reflect growing interest in Great Lakes cruising. Conde Nast Traveler magazine, for example, highlighted Great Lakes cruises on its list of “22 Best Places to Go in 2022.”

Among the Michigan ports seeing signs of a post-pandemic comeback is Muskegon. COVID-19 canceled would-be busy 2020 and 2021 seasons in Muskegon, with up to 60 cruise ship dockings planned over the two years. Seventeen dockings are planned for this summer, and MLive reports more could be planned in coming years.

Photo Caption: The Pearl Mist cruise ship enters Lake Michigan at Holland, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Cruise the Great Lakes.