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Highlands and Islands Greens
Highlands and Islands Greens

Greens Concerned About Environmentally Unsustainable Tourism

Monday, December 12th, 2016

Steve Sankey, Orkney Greens co-convenor and prospective candidate for the council election Ward of East Mainland, Burray and South Ronaldsay next May, has expressed concerns about the current state of tourism in Orkney, stating that unless immediate steps are taken to improve aspects of its management it could be approaching environmentally unsustainability. In particular, Steve expressed concern at the current lack of management by Orkney Islands Council (OIC) of the burgeoning cruise liner traffic in Orkney as a record 2017 season looms. The cruise liner calls to Kirkwall and Stromness have grown from 42,000 passengers only 4 years ago in 2012, to a predicted 126 vessels and some 140,000 passengers in 2017. Explaining his views he said:

“As a tour guide myself, I’ve been thinking for a few years now that the situation has been getting out of control, with sites such as the Italian Chapel, Kirkwall town centre and its non-toilet issue, the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness ‘car park’ and Skara Brae all suffering either physical damage, a poorer visitor experience, or both. It seemed to me that we have passed the point of site sustainability. So I decided to look at another aspect of sustainability and check what kind of environmental monitoring was being undertaken by OIC into the pollution effects of cruise liners visiting Orkney. Bear in mind that an average-sized cruise ship’s daily emissions may equate to as much as 12,000 cars.”

The results of his investigations surprised even Steve. “Absolutely no environmental monitoring of the cruise liners’ carbon emissions, or nitrous and sulphurous oxides is being done by OIC. At present, OIC’s air quality monitoring nearest to the ships is confined to nitrous emissions at one roadside site in the town centre. The pollution caused by these visiting liners which use a highly toxic form of high sulphur bunker fuel is well known. OIC should now insist that visiting liners turn their engines off when berthed, and instead use harbour-based clean power. Orkney is ideally placed to ensure that these liners use our surplus renewable energy when in port – getting them do so is just a matter of political will. It would also help to promote Orkney as a ‘Clean and Green’ destination.”

A survey is currently being undertaken by external consultants Douglas Ritchie and Colin Smith into ‘volume tourism’ in Orkney, and the impact of cruise liners in particular. The Orkney Greens are supportive of this approach and hope that sensible and sustainable management policies will emerge from the review. Steve concluded “That’s what’s needed – an independent and objective look at the issue, which, hopefully, this survey may provide. OIC has a vested interest in attracting more and more liners because of the £1 million plus revenues that they generate, so a step back is required to assess impacts and potential solutions.” He concluded “No-one, least of all me, is saying ‘no liners’, but there are many locals and tourism businesses in Orkney that are now sharing my view that better management of cruise liners is required. The solutions proposed should include environmental and site monitoring. Orkney needs to stay ahead of our tourism rivals on this issue.”