How Many Cruise Ships are Enough At Glacier Bay National Park?

How many cruise ships should be allowed to sail into Glacier Bay National Park each year? NPS photo of cruise ship approaching Margerie Glacier. NPS photo by T. VandenBerg.

For many, the most popular way to arrive and visit Glacier Bay National Park is via cruise ship. But how many cruise ships are enough in the park's waters, where humpback whales frequently swim?

There have been occasions in the past when cruise ships not only bumped into whales, but actually led to their deaths. And there also has been political pressure from Alaska's politicians to increase the number of passengers who could arrive at Glacier Bay via cruise ship.

Against this backdrop, park Superintendent Cherry Payne is proposing to keep the 2011 cruise ship day-use quota unchanged from current numbers, which allow for 153 "use days" in June, July and August, and 92 use days for May and September.

In 2005, an independent Science Advisory Board was appointed by Glacier Bay that recommended various studies to assess potential impacts from vessels-including cruise ships-on physical and biological resources. The board also recommended studies to assess potential impacts to the Huna Tlingit relationship to park resources, and impacts of cruise ships on visitor experience.

In December, 2009, the NPS convened a meeting that brought together the Science Advisory Board members, principal investigators, and NPS scientists and managers to review the results of the first suite of studies. Based on the presentations from researchers, the board evaluated the potential impacts of cruise ships and compared these to those impact topics originally analyzed in the park's Vessel Quota and Operating Restrictions Environmental Impact Statement. Their assessment indicates that the original impact analyses from the VQOR EIS remain accurate. However, the NPS will continue to pursue independently recommended research and monitoring so as to assess the effects of vessel traffic on the environment, as well as their effects on cultural relationships to and visitor experience in Glacier Bay. Areas that warrant additional research include wildlife disturbance, soundscape, and visitor experience.

The NPS is soliciting public comment on the proposed day use quota. Comments will be accepted until close of business on May 28. You can submit comments by regular mail, fax, or by using the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public Comment website at:

http://parkplanning.nps.gov/documentsOpenForReview.cfm?parkId=12&projectId=31708

By email to:

Glacier Bay National Park Trivia, via the NPS: Sailing through Glacier Bay today, you travel along shorelines and among islands that were completely covered by ice just over 200 years ago. When Captain George Vancouver charted adjacent waters of Icy Strait in 1794, he and his crew described what we now call Glacier Bay as just a small five-mile indent in a gigantic glacier that stretched off to the horizon. That massive glacier was more than 4,000 feet thick in places, up to 20 miles wide, and extended more than 100 miles to the St. Elias mountain range. By 1879, however, naturalist John Muir discovered that the ice had retreated more than 30 miles forming an actual bay. By 1916, the Grand Pacific Glacier – the main glacier credited with carving the bay – had melted back 60 miles to the head of what is now Tarr Inlet.