Italy has announced a ban on large cruise ships sailing into the northern city of Venice.
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said the ban was approved during a Cabinet meeting on July 13 and will take effect August 1. It covers the lagoon near the city's St. Mark's Square and the Giudecca Canal. The lagoon area is used by cruise ships stopping in Venice. Venice is built on a system of canals.
Franceschini said the government decided to act fast to avoid the U.N. culture agency UNESCO adding Venice to its list of World Heritage in Danger sites at an upcoming meeting in China.
UNESCO suggested last month it could put Venice on the list. The agency says the cruise ships -- which carry and unload thousands of day-trippers -- threaten the surrounding water environment.
The government order also declared the waterways of St. Mark's Basin, St. Mark's Canal and the Giudecca Canal a national monument, the minister added.
Environmentalists and cultural heritage activists have long sought to establish a ban on cruise ships in Venice. But the plans were opposed by local business leaders, who argue that the ships should be permitted because they bring in so much money.
Franceschini told reporters the government's decision was "awaited by UNESCO and by all those who have been to Venice and who have remained disturbed by the huge size of these ships passing through..."
The Italian government had decided on a ban earlier this year but did not immediately set a start date.
The ban covers ships weighing more than 25,000 tons or longer than 180 meters. It also bars smaller ships that produce too much pollution or could otherwise harm the city's environment.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi's office said other ships that are "considered sustainable" to the Venetian environment can continue to stop in Venice. The office noted that permitted ships generally carry about 200 passengers compared to the thousands transported by large cruise ships.
When cruise passengers are dropped in Venice, they generally only have a few hours to spend in the city. Most passengers end up visiting popular sites like St. Mark's Square, adding to the city's already crowded public spaces.
No cars are permitted in historic Venice, which is made up of narrow passages and numerous bridges. During the city's high tourist season, getting around Venice on foot can be difficult.
The government order also establishes compensation plans for industry businesses and others affected by the ban.
Officials plan to seek other possible stopping points for cruise ships in waters outside the heart of Venice. For now, the government has approved at least four temporary sites near the industrial port of Marghera, on the northwestern Adriatic Sea.
I'm Bryan Lynn.