With its turquoise waters and blazing sunsets, the southernmost island of Key West invites more slow walks than legal battles. However, in recent years, large cruise ships have sowed discord there.
These huge ships bring thousands of tourists every day to this small city of 26,000 inhabitants.
Many local businesses rely on their presence, but many residents also say they are sick of these entrants, such as Arlo Haskell, co-founder of the Safer Cleaner Ships Association.
“These cruise ships are an extractive industry, taking advantage of the beauty of Key West while undermining that beauty and ruining everyone’s experience,” he said.
In 2020, his association pushed for three local referendums: one to limit the size of boats, another so that they could disembark no more than 1,500 people per day, and the last to give preference to greener ships.
All three proposals were approved by 60 to 80% of voters and ratified by the city council, a win for Haskell. Or so I think.
In June 2021, Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law suspending the measure. The text emphasized that voters could not interfere in maritime trade matters.
The Miami Herald reported that shortly before, affiliates of the owner of Pierre PV Key West (one of the main beneficiaries of cruise access) donated nearly $1 million to the Ron DeSantis Friends of Friends, a group set up to raise it. The money of the governor, whose name is circulating in the 2024 presidential election.
– sidewalks closed –
Therefore, cleaner and safer ships are back in combat again, relying on unexpected data.
During the pandemic, the suspension of cruises hasn’t actually dumped local finances. Conversely, in 2021 the city received 25% higher sales taxes than in 2019.
Hotels and restaurants appear to have benefited from the fact that Florida has promoted the opening of businesses in the midst of Covid-19, when other states in the country imposed strict restrictions.
Then Mr. Haskell’s Society tried to mobilize the population for the town hall to function.
Since the number of cruise ships cannot be determined, the city government agreed last month to close two public berths in Key West to such ships.
Now these ships can only dock at the city’s only private berth, Pier B, which receives one cruise ship per day. Gone are the days when two or three of these boats arrived daily.
Good news for many, but a blow to some companies.
Because while cruise tourists only spend a few hours in town, generally eating on their boat, they are a source of income for souvenir shops, ice cream parlors and places like the Ernest Hemingway Museum, housed in the home of the American writer who lived there between 1931 and 1939, explains President Municipal, Terry Johnston.
– “ruin” –
On this weekday morning, the city streets are almost empty.
Vanessa Wilder waits for passengers on a recently arrived boat to rent bikes.
“We pull a lot of these ships,” says the 25-year-old. “If we didn’t have it, a lot of businesses here would have to close.”
Mr Haskell welcomes the city council’s latest move, but insists that ships arriving at the private pier must not exceed the desired size of residents.
These boats, he says, “cause huge damage to our ecosystem.”
Scott Atwell, a spokesperson for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency in Key West, is nervous.
“We don’t have specific studies[that prove]that cruise ship turbidity is different from natural turbidity” or say it “reaches reefs in destructive ways,” he says.
However, the municipal council decided to monitor the water quality.
“We don’t want to get rid of the cruise ships,” concludes the mayor. “We want to bring them into a happy medium so that we can have good economic conditions but also a good quality of life for our people.”
gma / iba / vgr / cn
Video – A fisherman catches a very rare fish off the coast of Florida