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Key West tackles trade and environment issues
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Key West tackles trade and environment issues

FINDING BALANCE People watch an artist
perform as the Carnival Dream cruise ship sails in Key West, Florida on
April 11, 2022. The island-city of Key West off the southern tip of Florida invites visitors to stroll slowly, enjoy turquoise waters and take in the sunset. But according to some residents, that idyllic peace is endangered  by lumbering, tourist-filled cruise ships. AFP PHOTO

FINDING BALANCE People look at an artist
As the Carnival Dream cruise ships sail in Key West, Florida
April 11, 2022. The island-city Key West is located off the southern tip Florida and invites visitors to walk slowly, take in the sunset, and enjoy turquoise waters. However, some residents fear that this idyllic peace may be endangered by the lumbering, tourist-filled ships. AFP PHOTO

KEY WEST The island-city Key West is located off the southern tip Florida and invites visitors to take a slow stroll, enjoy turquoise waters, and take in the sunset. Some residents believe that this idyllic peace is threatened by the lumbering, tourist-filled ships.

These huge vessels attract thousands of tourists every day to the small community of 26,000 inhabitants. Their charming, often pastel-colored Victorian houses line leafy, walkable streets.

After a long-running local battle, cruise tourist numbers have dropped but many residents still believe more needs to be done.

Many businesses rely on the tourist crowds. However, residents such Arlo haskell find the ships to nuisance and cause environmental harm. He created the non-profit Safer Cleaner Ships.

Haskell stated that cruise ships are part of an extract industry that profits off the beauty in Key West, while destroying that beauty and degrading everyone’s experience.”

His association presented three local referendums in 2020. One to limit the size cruise ships, one to allow no more that 1,500 people a days to disembark, and another to ban boats that do the greatest damage to the environment.

The city council ratified the three proposals, which were each approved by 60 to 80 percent of voters. It was a victory, or so Haskell thought.

In June 2021, Florida Governor. Ron DeSantis signed legislation suspending the measures. He argued that voters couldn’t interfere in maritime trade matters.

According to the Miami Herald local businesses, including one owned by Pier B, a huge beneficiary from the cruise ships as one city’s main docking places, had donated almost $1million to a political campaign committee supporting Gov. Rick Scott.

Public docks are closed

Based on some unexpected economic data, Safer Cleaner Ships returned the battle to battle after DeSantis’ move.

The information showed that local finances were not affected by cruise ship suspensions in the wake of the pandemic.

Contrary to popular belief, the city collected 25% more sales taxes in 2021 than it did in 2019, prior to Covid.

Florida’s open-business policy seems to have been a boon for restaurants and hotels, as other states were imposing rules and closing down businesses.

Last month, the city administration decided that Key West could not limit the number cruise ships and would close its two public docks.

Cruises cannot park at Pier B, which can only hold one ship per day. The days of two- to three ships arriving daily are gone.

This has been a major blow to some businesses.

Cruise tourists only spend a few hours in the city, and they eat before leaving. This means that there is little revenue for restaurants and hotels. However, they do purchase souvenirs and snacks.

Mayor Teri Johnson said that the visitors support the establishments of tchotchke shops and other ice cream parlors, as well as tourist destinations such the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. It is here that the famous American writer lived from 1931 to 1939.

Finding balance

This week, Key West streets were almost deserted one morning. Vanessa Wilder was waiting at her downtown bike rental stand for passengers to arrive from a newly arrived cruise.

She said, “The main shops and bars down here, we thrive on these cruise ships,”

“If they didn’t exist, many businesses would have to close.”

Despite his victories Haskell insists that things need to move one step further. Residents should set a maximum size for cruise ships docked at the private dock.

According to Haskell, the boats “do tremendous harm to our ecosystem” by clouding water, which, in turn, threatens the survival of corals.

Scott Atwell, spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Key West, stated that the evidence was not so clear.

He said that there are no studies to determine if cruise ship turbidity differs from natural turbidity or if turbidity from ships’ channels reaches coral reefs in a harmful way.

The city council of Key West has decided to monitor water quality, and support coral restoration. This initiative charges a fee for passengers disembarking from Pier B.

Johnston stated that while we don’t want the cruise ships to be discarded, Johnston suggested that they should be brought down to a moderate level in order to maintain good economic conditions and good quality of life for residents.

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