This month, the long-running battle over cruise ship limits in Key West is set for a crucial decision. A request by a cruise pier owner to expand cruise operations is in the hands of Governor Ron DeSantis, who will soon decide.
Pier B Development Corp wants to handle larger ships and more cruise traffic. This has divided the community down environmental and economic lines to some extent.
A grassroots organization, the Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, began a campaign during the COVID-19 tourism slowdown to lobby for cruise ship restrictions due to overcrowding and environmental concerns.
The upcoming decision now represents a balancing act for Gov. DeSantis. He has strongly advocated for protecting the Florida Keys’ unique marine ecosystem but is also pro-business and a big supporter of Florida tourism.
Pier B Development Corp owner Mark Walsh said he has offered to contribute financially to coral reef protection measures.
A Timeline of the Issue
The Safer Cleaner Ships organization lobbied for and won a cruise ship limit by a public vote in late 2020. Gov. DeSantis later overturned this. Undeterred, in 2022, the organization proposed the One Ship Policy, which the Key West City Commission approved.
This initially put a one cruise ship per day limit at the city-run Mallory and the Outer Mole piers, but not the privately run Pier B. The city decided not to allow ships to dock at the municipal piers. Safer Cleaner Ships says this has effectively cut ship calls by 50%.
The issue of unrestricted cruise tourism has been contentious from the beginning. There have been dockside protests while tourism business owners have been vocal against placing any restrictions on cruise ship visits.
Edwin Swift III, president of Historic Tours of America, said his trolley tours business has declined by 40%.
Also, scientists on both sides have given contrasting analyses on the extent of environmental damage.