The cruise ships that carry the endangered species of the Caribbean Sea, the Philippines, and Indonesia can be a powerful tool for conservation, researchers say.
The ship transport sector employs about 500,000 people in the region and employs some 2.2 million people worldwide, according to the International Maritime Organization.
But with a $1 billion annual operating budget, the cruise ship industry is expected to lose $3.3 billion this year, according the Cruise Lines Association of the Philippines.
This is not because cruise ships are not effective in saving marine life, but because of a lack of knowledge about how to use the ships and how to maintain them, said Tania Tafaro, the executive director of the Association.
To improve the use of cruise ships in conservation, the association and other conservation groups are working on the creation of a registry of cruise ship operators and are calling on the government to create a special registry for these ships, said Patricia F. Alvarado, the director of operations for the Caribbean Maritime Rescue Group.
The government is working on such a registry and the Caribbean Islands Conservation Society is also developing the registry, she said.
But even with the registry and registry work, the industry faces many challenges.
For one, there are no clear guidelines for how cruise ships should be used and maintained.
For example, some cruise ships use large engines, while others use small engines, said Alvarados.
Another challenge is that the ships are small and so they need to be protected, she added.
The International Marine Transport Association (IMTA), which represents cruise ships operators in the Philippines and Indonesia, said that there is no formal registry of these ships and the government needs to do more to protect these vessels from harm.
For example, the IMTA has been working with the government on the establishment of a marine rescue program, which would give the government more powers over these vessels, said Michael P. Calero, the chief executive officer of IMTA.
He added that the IMMA and other organizations are also calling for a special status for these vessels.
The Caribbean Sea is the largest and most protected marine area in the world, and marine resources are essential to the economy of the region.
But because the region has few marine sanctuaries, and because of the lack of government oversight, it is vulnerable to human and environmental pollution, said Calero.