Will giant cruise ships destroy the wonders their fares claim to affection? | Rowan Moore

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Guides who shot a polar suffer ought to have denounced as assassins. But what does that see the tourists who are spoiling its fragile environment?

A special kind of shock comes with the shooting of a polar assume. Their magnificence, their appearance of cuddliness, their violence, their vulnerability, their anthropomorphism- all combination to draw the deaths among a single male, at the mitts of guides for a sightseer cruise ship, worldwide news.

The internet hummed with attack. It is hard to think of another beast, even one more endangered, whose loss would justification so much reaction.

Then there is a second shock, with the accompanying realisation that cruises to fragile barrens is on the increase. Eighteen carries were due to dock last week in the small port of Longyearbyen, the prime township of Svalbard, the archipelago where the bear was shot. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, the company whose ship MS Bremen was involved in the incident, is propelling another two next year, the Hanseatic Nature and the Hanseatic Inspiration, to employ the growing Arctic market.

These will take around 200 fares each, a number that already makes an ” excursion”, as they call it, into a mass-produced experience. In 2016, to the dismay of environmentalists, the 1,000 -passenger Crystal Serenity became the first cruise ship to navigate the Northwest Passage. Its owner, Crystal Cruises, is planning to launch a” polar-class megayacht” next year.

This feels wrong. It is contradictory to thrust these moving towns, with the pollution and interruption they entail, into targets whose charm is in their pristine solitude. It adds a new figurehead to the war that has been contended in Venice for years over the waft, multistorey hotels that impose themselves on the very was of the opinion that attracted them to the city in the first place. As the global cruising business germinated by 4% in 2017, and by 20% in the five years before that, such skirmishes will simply intensify, and in more locations.

At a personal level, the news of the shooting gave me pause. I has only returned from Svalbard, including the Sjuoyane islands where the accident happened, as part of a residency of creators and scribes aboard the tall ship Antigua. We contemplated ourselves good people, concerned about the environment, uncomfortable about the air miles that had got us there, hoping that our visit could contribute in some meagre course to our understanding of the Arctic. We navigated under sail when possible, rather than with the diesel engine, and collected washed-up rubbish from the beaches as we started, as you are encouraged to do.

There were 29 of us, rather than the hundreds or thousands who might travel in a cruise liner. It is difficult to imagine anyone who could adoration the Arctic environment more than our guidebooks or who would less want to kill a tolerate. But they only forearmed with rifles as a last resort, according to the law. In principle, they could have been forced to use them, in which case they would have faced denunciation across the internet as murderers. If we demonstrate ourselves the brightnes of picturing glaciers and wildlife, moreover, why shouldn’t the compensate punters of Hapag-Lloyd and other cruise rows have it very?

Tourists photo a polar endure and its rookie in Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway. Photograph: Ralph Lee Hopkins/ Getty Images/ National Geographic Magazines

A popular online idea was articulated by Ricky Gervais’s tweet: “‘ Let’s get too close to a polar produce in its natural environment and then kill it if it gets too close .’ Morons .” Never attention the reports that the templates were acting in self-defence, that they were not seeking an encounter with the animal, that it astounded them while they were carrying out a number check of a arrive area. Humen, departs the dispute, have no business encroaching on its habitat.

The problem with this view is that tolerates can be found anywhere in Svalbard, too Greenland and northern Canada, and they can appear in and around towns and settlements as well as on uninhabited beaches. Short of complete departure of all these regions, some interaction of human and animal will happen. So it’s more an issue of what kind of interaction is appropriate rather than whether it should happen at all.

It’s a question of kind and degree. Common appreciation says that there has to be some kind of restriction, before ships are jostling round the glaciers like tourists in front of the Mona Lisa . In Venice, last-place autumn, it was finally announced that large cruise ships would have to moor further from the city, although there is a three-year delay to implementing these constitutions. So something can be done- the Arctic nations need to learn from La Serenissima and ordinance before it is too late.

A cruise liner overtakes in front of San Marco Square in Venice. Photograph: Andrea Merola/ EPA

Giant cruise ships look to me like sadnes machines. They don’t obligate inhabitants happy in the places they visit. They don’t making such a gangs happy, if you are to believe the recurring allegations of mistreatment of staff. As for the passengers, although I am sure plenty of satisfied patrons “re going to tell me” otherwise, there seems to be so little engagement with the wonders they come to visit that they might as well be seeing them on a screen.

They crystallise a mentality, that art and nature are things to be grabbed, often with monstrous cameras. A promotional shot for one of Hapag-Lloyd’s Antarctic cruises, in which a firing squad of tourists, stand in a Zodiac inflatable boat, object their lenses at penguins, summing-ups this up – why don’t they just pause to look at the damn birds? Last-place week’s other wildlife information, that visitors to Skomer Island in Wales are trampling puffins to demise in their eagerness to picture them, speaks of the same mentality. You kill the thing you claimed to love.

We’re all prone to this acquisitive mentality, myself and my comrade high-minded travellers included. In our subject, the penetrations of the guides and crew helped us actually to look at what was around us; the same will be true of at least some of the other cruises around the Arctic. It would be nice to think that tourism could act our better natures rather than our worst.

It might be hoped that if everyday sightseers have contact with the Arctic they may contribute, in their home countries, to the spread of understanding of this essential place. But only if the setup of the tours stands understanding to take place. How anyone might legislate to encourage musing cruises and discourage dumb ones is not obvious. It would be nice but unfeasible to give preference to camera-free trip-ups. It would be a good start to limit the size and number of the cruise ships.

* Rowan Moore is an Observer columnist

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