Cruise Ships Agree to Protect Puget Sound Shellfish Beds

BELLEVUE, Washington, May 23, 2008 (ENS) – Cruise ships that visit Seattle under a 2004 environmental agreement will take new precautions to help protect commercial and tribal shellfish beds from virus contamination.

All three parties to the Memorandum of Understanding regarding Cruise Ship Operations – Department of Ecology, the Port of Seattle, and the NorthWest CruiseShip Association – approved the amendment earlier this week.

The protections follow recommendations issued in a report by the Washington Department of Health late last year. The study found that the wastewater treatment systems used on ships operating under the agreement protect the shellfish beds, but recommended additional safety measures to ensure appropriate water quality levels.

The amendment to the agreement provides that the ships will not discharge treated wastewater within half a mile of commercial or tribal shellfish beds.

A cruise ship passes by the Seattle
Space Needle (Photo credit unknown)

By the 2009 cruise season, ships will install real-time monitors to detect problems with their wastewater disinfection systems, and will immediately stop discharging if those systems do not meet performance standards.

Beginning in 2008, discharges will be stopped if more than two percent of the people on board are suffering from any type of diarrheal illness.

Cruise ships will immediately report wastewater disinfection problems to the state Department of Health.

“These changes add an important dimension to the cruise ship agreement’s clean water protections,” said Kelly Susewind, who manages Ecology’s water quality program.

“Wastewater treatment – whether on cruise ships or treatment plants on shore – plays a big role in protecting Puget Sound and its shellfish resources,” Susewind said.

The cruise ship agreement prohibits wastewater discharges from NorthWest CruiseShip Association member ships unless the vessels have advanced wastewater treatment systems, certified by the Department of Ecology.

Ships must submit regular reports on those systems to the agency and allow agency personnel to conduct on-board inspections.

The NorthWest CruiseShip Association represents the nine major cruise lines that call at Port of Seattle terminals during the spring-through-fall Alaska cruise season. The Port expects 211 cruise ship calls this season.

The MOU agreement supports the broader Puget Sound Initiative – a comprehensive effort by local, tribal, state and federal governments, business, agricultural and environmental interests, scientists, and the public to restore and protect the Sound, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Thousands of acres of commercial shellfish beds in Puget Sound already are closed because the clams, mussels and oysters are contaminated by bacteria, making them unsafe to eat.

On May 1, the state Department of Health issued a warning that pollution threatens shellfish harvesting in 17 of the state’s commercial shellfish growing areas.

“Washington is a national shellfish leader, and while shellfish are vital to our state economy the growing areas also serve as a barometer of the health of our Puget Sound and coastal waters,” said Washington Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. “We’re seeing progress, but big challenges remain as we work to restore a healthy environment to the waters of the coast and around the Sound.”

To view the complete MOU agreement, including amendments and other information, click here [].

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