John E. Wells has written two letters recently claiming the Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships is leading a “hysterical disinformation program” in support of the cruise ship referenda on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Mr. Wells doesn’t dispute the well-known public health risk posed by large cruise ships, which is the fundamental reason for our campaign. Instead, he says the fact that cruise ships negatively impact marine life is fake news. “Cruise ships in Key West do not harm corals and there is no study that says they do,” Mr. Wells insists. “There is no data or report of cruise ship transits of the main ship channel harming any sea life.”

Mr. Wells embarrasses himself with these absurd claims. Everyone can see the silt plumes caused by large cruise ships with their own eyes. Most people don’t need a study to tell them what is plainly obvious: that the daily fouling of a marine environment is detrimental to the life within it. But in fact, there is a mountain of independent scientific evidence, paid for by the City of Key West and the U.S. Navy, showing cruise ships have a lethal impact on coral and sea life in Key West.

Dr. Thomas J. Murray’s 2005 report, “The Impact of the Cruise Ship Industry on the Quality of Life in Key West,” draws on dozens of scientific studies and explains why negative impacts from large cruise ships are more severe in Key West than in other global cruise ports: “The situation in Key West appears to be unique in that a relatively shallow and narrow main channel and harbor … exist in close proximity to coral reef ecosystem habitats and communities that depend on clear, clean water.”

Murray notes that the main ship channel runs directly through an important spawning ground for the queen conch, an area so ecologically unique it has been federally designated as a Habitat Area of Particular Concern. He describes a large area of formerly pristine underwater environment that has been “severely impacted” by cruise ships and resembles a “blasted moonscape.”

But worse than this localized devastation is the widespread problem of “chronic turbidity” caused by the world’s largest cruise ships traveling in and out of Key West. “Turbidity is … the second most important determinant of ecosystem health in the Florida Keys,” according to Murray. While high winds and other natural events also cause turbidity, Murray finds cruise ships cause levels 30 times higher than what is found in the natural environment.

Turbidity interrupts vital processes of coral and other aquatic species, hampering growth and occasionally causing death. “Turbidity levels observed with docking cruise ships greatly exceed state water quality standards and local fishermen … report the direct effect of turbidity plumes on the fish they are targeting.” Marine life that may be killed by ship-generated turbidity include commercially important species like lobster, stone crab, shrimp, snapper, and grouper. 

Murray’s report is over 300 pages long, with 100 pages documenting the negative impacts of cruise ships on the marine environment. It is too much to summarize here, but readers may access the entire report at

Like others who are opposed to reasonable limits on cruise ships, Mr. Wells has a financial stake in the outcome of the November referenda. He is chairman of the Board of Caribe Nautical Services, which supplies large cruise ships with whatever they need when they call on Key West. The bigger the cruise ship, the bigger the paycheck for Mr. Wells. His business partners include the Bar Pilots Association and the Walsh family, who operate Pier B and who have sued to block the people of Key West from voting on cruise ships in November.

This small group of powerful men and their surrogates are now telling the people of Key West not to believe their own eyes, and to forget about the science too. We think our voters are smart enough to distinguish facts from self-interested falsehoods and decide what is best for our community.

Arlo Haskell
Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships

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