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 life-line, 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 since the large cruise ships have stopped visiting our ports, so 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 directly connected to a healthy reef and thriving eco-tourism industry.
So in November 2020 the citizens of Key West voted to protect our reefs and local water and all those that rely on them. But then On June 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis cancelled the results of a free and fair election in Key West and overturned limits on cruise ship operations enacted by a supermajority of local voters. Now the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Great Florida Reef are again threatened by some of the largest and most destructive cruise ships in the world.