As guests disembarked a cruise ship in the quaint port town of Douarnenez, France, the calm was disrupted not by the usual bustle of guests embarking busses to go on tours but by a crowd of protestors dressed as polar animals. 

The protestors gathered to voice their discontent towards the cruise industry. The World Traveller cruise ship, which had anchored at the port, was the aim of the protests.

The protests in France are one of many seen in cities and ports around Europe in the last year, where opposition is growing towards what is seen as mass tourism damaging fragile ecosystems.

As guests aboard the World Traveller disembarked on Sunday morning, October 8, in the French port town of Douarnenez in Brittany, they were greeted with an orchestra of boos, jeers, and slogans such as “Shame on you” and “Go home!” chanted by about 80 demonstrators. It is already the second time that cruise passengers were confronted by aggressive protestors in the small port.

The protestors, dressed in costumes resembling polar bears, walruses, and Venetian carnival-goers, aimed to highlight the detrimental environmental impact caused by cruise tourism, particularly on polar regions. 

The placards they held read “Stop Cruiseshit” and “Bear your polar shame,” bringing home the message the protestors aimed to give to visiting cruise passengers. According to one of the protestors, the demonstration served as a symbol of support for the polar regions, which are feeling the effects of climate change.

“We’re simply denouncing this industry, which has no place. We don’t need this industry,” said one protestor. “Biodiversity is something more important. So we’re saying stop to a short-term vision and stop to a form of hypocrisy too.”

The 9,934 gross tons World Traveller, sailing with less than 200 guests, is on a ten-day cruise from Dublin to Lisbon, calling to a range of rarely visited small ports around the European Atlantic coastline. The vessel is owned by Mystic Cruises, a US-based company, and operated by several different charterers.

Besides Douarnenez, the cruise ship has calls scheduled for St Mary’s Island in the Scilly Isles, Le Verdon-sur-Mer in the Medoc, France, San Sebastian de la Gomera in the Canary Islands, La Coruna, Spain, and Porto and Cascais in Portugal.

However, the cruises that the vessel will undertake to Antarctica this winter have caught the protestors’ eyes. They called the Antarctic expedition cruises a ‘blatant example of last-chance tourism.’

Guests who disembarked in the ordinarily quiet French town reacted with a mix of surprise and understanding to the protesters, who were held back by police. One guest called the protest a “useful educational experience.” 

According to the French newspaper Le Figaro, the vessel’s charterer, Florida-based Atlas Ocean Voyages, believes the protests are baseless, and its ships consume merely a fifth of the fuel used by traditional cruise ships. Further, the company actively aims to lessen its environmental footprint.

Cruise Ship in Douarnenez, France. (Photo Credit: Mystic Stock Photography)

Yet, the discontent towards the cruise industry has been growing, not just confined to Douarnenez. A study by a French NGO showed that cruise ships in European waters emitted over 8 million tonnes of CO2 in 2022, equal to 50,000 flights between Paris and New York. 

The protests echo a larger global sentiment, questioning the sustainability of cruise tourism, especially when set against the fragile polar regions. In the last few months, we’ve seen protests in Norway, England, Scotland, France, Australia, Alaska, and several more.

While the cruise industry has certainly taken a significant step in the right direction by introducing the net-zero goals for 2050, it’s clear there is still a long way to go to reach an understanding with opponents.

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