Are Key West Waters clearer with out cruise ships? New research says sure

The improvement in water quality after cruise lines stopped visiting the island last March was one of the main arguments behind the successful campaign to limit cruise traffic to Key West.

But it was all anecdotal.

Now a study by a Florida International University researcher has confirmed these claims.

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The study by Henry Briceño of the FIU Institute for the Environment examined changes in the clarity of surface water in Key West during the “anthropause”.

Data from the water quality monitoring program implemented by the FIU in the Keys since 1995 and from satellites were used.

And it found that “the mean turbidity in surface waters south of Key West during the shutdown was significantly lower than the mean turbidity for the past 25 years”.

“That would explain the general perception of Key West residents that the water has been cleaner (less murky) since the shutdown began,” the study said.

The magnitude of the change is statistically significant but is still “very small, underscoring the sensitivity of this ecosystem to even very small changes,” the report said.

And it states that even these very small changes “quickly lead to observable changes in water quality that are felt by Keys’ neighbors and certainly the rich biota of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.”

The new report comes as Florida lawmakers consider a bill that would lift cruise ship limits in Key West. Holly Parker Curry, Policy Manager for the Surfrider Foundation in Florida reported the new study to the House Subcommittee on Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Thursday.

“Last week, 170 independent fisheries charter leaders signed up to protest this bill. Two dozen environmental groups signed up to protest this bill,” she said. “What these groups have in common is the water quality.”

Key West attorney Michael Halpern also spoke to the subcommittee. He said he represents companies that speak out against limiting cruise lines – and that the new limits are not about protecting the environment.

“This was a move by three or four wealthy people to turn Key West into an upscale community and prevent the working class from coming in,” Halpern said.

More than 60% of Key West voters approved all three changes to the city law in November. The new rules limit the number of people who can come to Key West on a cruise ship to 1,500 people per day. Ships are limited to a capacity of 1,300 people. And the city must give priority to ships with the best environmental and health records.

The new limits are included in city law, but have not yet been implemented as cruise lines have not resumed sailing from the United States.

The subcommittee voted 11 to 6 to repeal Key West’s new rules on Wednesday.

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