In an effort to preserve the beauty and delicate ecosystem of their environment, concerned citizens in Key West, Florida, and Venice, Italy have come together to ban super sized cruise ships from visiting and docking at their ports.
The Comitato No Grandi Navi (the "Committee for no big ships") of Venice and the Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism are joined in their opposition to large cruise ships, which they say have disturbed the area’s natural ecosystem and can disrupt the visitor experience.
Both organizations issued a joint statement, saying that "The scale of the vessels far exceeds anything that these historic ports were built to accommodate and their sheer size overwhelms the historic setting, diminishing the visual appeal and sense of place."
"They (Comitato No Grandi Navi) are experiencing the same things we are", noted Jolly Benson, member of the Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism. "We reached out to them and they agreed to form an alliance with us. Both cities are seeing their culture and way of life diminished and both are seeing the very real effects these larger ships have on our sensitive ecosystems".
The issue is urgent for concerned residents, since Key West voters will be voting whether the Army Corps of Engineers can study the possibility of dredging the island’s main ship channel to open it up for super sized cruise ships. Dredging is currently illegal in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Key West could be granted a permit to dredge, as long as the Army Corps of Engineers publishes a favorable study that claims minimal impact. However, Sanctuary superintendent Sean Morton pointed out that there is no permit category that allows dredging solely for economic purposes.
Eric Bush, chief of the Planning and Policy for the Corps of Engineers Jacksonville office, has stated that his agency will take its cue from the resource agencies like the Marine Sanctuary. If the sanctuary disapproves of the proposed study, the agency will not go ahead with seeking funding for the dredging study.
Supporters of the ballot initiative include Jennifer Hulse, one of the key attorneys who helped create the PAC (political action committee) for the Greater Key West Chamber of Commerce. According to Hulse, the study is necessary because Key West has seen its cruise ship traffic shrink by almost 30% since 2003 -from 1 million passengers annually to around 700,000 in recent years-. "The reason for that is the restrictions on the channel", Hulse explained. "This (economically) affects every aspect of our community".
In the next month, Key West residents will have to determine just how much cruise ship business matters to their communities’ economic health. Still, it’s important to remember that conducting a study does not mean that dredging would be an inevitability. In one month, Key West voters can vote for their economic interests, or they can choose to preserve the reason tourists come to their island in the first place.