It all starts with the ocean.  

Diving, fishing, sailing, snorkeling — life revolves around our crystal blue waters here in Key West. That is our draw, our lifeline, and a main source of revenue. But what will happen to this industry when the reefs die off?  

If you have lived in Key West for some time, you have seen many changes underwater from human impacts.  But do not despair — this makes it easy to see positive change, too. Like many of you, we have not seen the waters of Key West this clear and clean in a while. Local fishermen, divers and eco-tourism captains are in awe of the changes they have seen in water clarity over the past six months. Having no cruise ships in Key West waters since March, one cannot help but wonder if these two events are correlated.

Each time a cruise ship comes into port in Key West, a massive plume of silt is dragged from the harbor that smothers our already struggling coral reef. As the reefs are smothered by sediment and wastewater discharge carried in on the currents, it only adds to the massive assault our reefs are already under from warming oceans, pollution, human impact and countless other insults. 

Corals reefs serve a vital role as a nursery ground for marine life, aggregation spot, habitat, and food source for many marine species around Key West. If these reefs die, so too do the industries that rely on them.

It is estimated that the reefs account for $4.4 billion in local annual commerce and $2.2 billion in yearly local income (Source: NOAA/FKNMS). These are the jobs that could be lost and are directly connected to a healthy reef and thriving eco-tourism industry.  

By voting for safer, cleaner, and smaller cruise ships in Key West on Nov. 3, we can take a step in  the right direction for our reefs and our community that relies on the tourist dollars a healthy reef brings.

Voting for more environmentally friendly cruise ships means smaller ships with less draft — the vertical distance from the waterline to the bottom of the boat’s hull. This means less chance of plumes of silt over our reef and less aggravation of the ocean floor and the precious life that calls it home.

Voting yes on the referenda reduces the pollution, from human sewage to greywater and sometimes plastic waste, cruise ships discharge into our home waters. Some of which, fecal contamination, is tied to coral disease outbreak on the Florida Reef Tract. Limiting the type and size of cruise ships coming into port will lessen the stress on the ocean ecosystem and be a step in the right direction for improving water quality — a  crucial element to healthy reefs.

Our ocean livelihoods are at stake. This is our home reef, and it is the only one we have. The same reef that the maritime and eco-tourism industry, one of the Keys’ largest industries, depends on for thousands of jobs. Without a healthy reef and thriving marine ecosystem, we can no longer make a living on our crystal blue waters and the coral reefs we call home.  

It does not get more personal than this. If we do not give our ocean a voice, who will? Join us in voting for safer, cleaner, smaller cruise ships in Key West on Nov. 3rd. Vote yes-yes-yes.

Shawn Martin, chair of Surfrider Foundation Florida Keys
Whitney Wemett, Vice Chair of Surfrider Foundation Florida Keys

Join Our Blast – Keys News Right to Your INBOX