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Angry Venetians say cruise ships are partly to blame for flooding

It's another nail in the coffin for these monstrous purveyors of industrial tourism.

You have probably heard about the record-breaking tides that have flooded Venice in recent weeks. The city had to close St. Mark's Square three times in one week as it grappled with the worst string of high tides that it has faced since 1872. Businesses, homes, churches, and streets filled with cold salt water, and the estimated cost of damages so far is one billion euros.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that Venice has been pouring billions of euros into a massive infrastructure project since 2003. Called Mose, it is supposed to protect against this very kind of extreme high-tide incident, but it is neither complete nor effective. Critics have been calling it a waste of time and money since the beginning, but now, in light of the climate crisis, their suggestions are being taken more seriously.

What anti-Mose activists would like to see (among other things) is an end to giant cruise ships entering the historic lagoon in which the city was built. They argue that, not only is overcrowding a problem (I've written about this for TreeHugger), but that the ships themselves are contributing to the flooding. This is an argument I had not heard before, but it is compelling.

Apparently, the ships create huge wakes that in turn erode the ancient and fragile foundations of the cities, which were never designed to withstand such wear and tear. A website called Venezia Autentica explains how it happens:

“The displacement in cruise ships is roughly around 50 percent of its gross tonnage: a 100,000t ship will move 50 million liters of water. Even though performed relatively slowly, the movement of such a massive amount of water erodes the hundreds- and even thousands-year-old foundations of the palaces and the streets of Venice. Big ships are not the only cause of this phenomenon, of course. Heavy (and too-fast-moving) motor traffic is to be blamed also for the holes (yes, real holes) being carved in the foundations.”

The lagoon has been dredged to make room for bigger ships of all kinds. Not only has this destroyed coastal habitats for many fish, rodents, birds, and plants, but it has had a direct effect on flooding:

“The heavy digging of the canals to let big ships into the Venetian Lagoon increases the amount of water that enters and exits the lagoon during tides. The direct and most obvious effect on the city of Venice is the increase in number and intensity of high waters, or Acque Alte, which partially flood the city.”

This just adds more fuel to the anti-cruise ship fire. Angry protesters marched in the wet streets this weekend, called for Mose to be terminated, demanding that mayor Luigi Brugnaro resign, and demanding an end to huge ships if Venice is to be saved from the climate crisis.

It's another nail in the coffin for these monstrous purveyors of industrial tourism.