Three measures that would essentially ban large cruise ships from docking in Key West that were on the ballot were overwhelmingly approved on Election Day. One measure prohibits ships with more than 1,300 passengers from docking in the Keys, another measure caps daily cruise ship visitors at 1,500, and the third measure gives docking priority to cruise lines with the best environmental and health records.
With 63, 61, and 81 percent approval from voters, respectively, all three measures passed.
The Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships, a grassroots group, was the driving force behind the measures. It sought to “balance the limited economic benefits of cruise ships against the larger public health, environmental, and economic interests of Key West citizens.”
Cruise ships are, somewhat surprisingly, a relatively minor part of Key West’s economy. Cruise passengers make up half of the visitors to the city, but they only contribute 8 percent of visitor spending, just $32 per person compared to the $550 spent by other tourists.
COVID-19 provides an additional incentive to limit visitors to the island, particularly those who aren’t dropping lots of cash. The history of cruise ships as vectors of the disease likely didn’t hurt the cause of those pushing for voters to approve the measures.
But while the economic downside of restricting cruise traffic would be minimal, the environmental upside will be substantial. Cruise traffic and pollutants annual cause “chronic water-quality issues” that kill sea creatures and harm the local charter fishing industry.
Cruise Lines International Association told USA Today that it “places incredible importance on being a strong partner in the communities where we visit, and we believe open dialogue and communication is a critical part of that.”
This highly calibrated corporate statement, as nice as it sounds, could be the prelude to legal action. Under the new rules, 40 of the 50 ships that docked in Key West last year would not be allowed, and no one expects the cruise industry to go down without a fight. But in good news, it appears the locals of Key West have spoken — and they chose to protect their environment and their economy in overwhelming scores. Nice!