Cruising is coming back! Will Key West be on the itinerary?

Cruise ships in Key West do not harm corals and there is no study that says they do.

Michelle, Ella Joyce and I can’t wait to go cruising again — and all signs show that the time to set sail is drawing near.

Cruise ships can soon safely launch with COVID-19 mitigation protocols in place to protect passengers’ health.

But will Key West be on the itinerary for us, or the millions of other families itching to take to the seas? That all depends on whether Gov. Ron DeSantis signs Senate Bill 1194.

Yesterday, we reported the leaders of Safer, Cleaner Ships signed a letter calling on DeSantis to veto the bill. Mainstream media coverage of the issue has firmly been one-sided, often taking the claims of Safer, Cleaner Ships at face value, without much consideration for opposing views.

Those voices include John Wells, the owner of Caribe Nautical, or Michael Halpern, the owner of the historic Southernmost House Hotel, both of whom spoke eloquently about why legislative action was necessary the last Session to prevent end-runs around elected port authorities, whether they are special districts or municipal governments, from becoming the norm in how Florida’s ports are run.

While Safer, Cleaner Ships presents impassioned arguments for a veto of SB 1194.

However, the facts don’t back them up.

Safer, Cleaner Ships says the referendums they pushed in Key West would not ban cruise ships from coming to the Keys.

The truth is, the limits they want on ship size and passenger counts would eliminate 90% of passenger arrivals, effectively banning cruises to the Keys except for the 10% of customers who are well off enough to afford higher-end cruises.

Safer, Cleaner Ships argues their referendums would prevent an environmental disaster and save the Great Florida Reef from damage.

In reality, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) reported in 2019 — while cruises were still going on regularly — that water quality is “generally good in the Keys. However, nearshore water quality is affected by stormwater runoff and wastewater.” In other words, the threat to water quality was nutrients from the shore, not the cruise ships.

The U.S. Coast Guard notes cruise ships have never discharged into Key West waters.

Further, as Wells points out: “Cruise ships in Key West do not harm corals and there is no study that says they do. There is no data or report of cruise ship transits of the main channel harming any sea life.”

Safer, Cleaner Ships claims the law is unconstitutional and undoes the will of the voters.

Actually, the issue of port governance is bigger than just Key West. Florida has 15 ports, all of which receive state funds or are eligible to do so.

One could describe ports as the “crown jewels” of Florida’s economy. Collectively, they create 1 million jobs in the state, with over $117 billion in economic activity. SB 1194 does not restrict local governing boards’ authority to run their ports. Nor does it prevent voters from electing (or removing) local officials from office if they like (or dislike) how they run their ports.

The law says there are things best debated by local governing boards, not shoehorned into major organizing documents such as city or county charters. Many people persuasively make a similar argument about complex policy not belonging in the Florida Constitution.

Florida has an international reputation to protect. Can we expect the Legislature and Governor to allow publicly funded ports to close their doors to millions of families and say sorry, you are not welcome anymore?

The answer is an emphatic no. At the end of the day, Senate Bill 1194 is about protecting Florida’s ability to conduct international trade and welcome tourists statewide. Keeping Florida trading and cruising is essential to our continued economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Bill 1194 keeps all of Florida’s ports open for commerce and those wishing to visit our beautiful state. That should be how DeSantis views this issue.

Please, keep Key West as a destination for the Schorsch family, and all of us.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


  • Ocean Joe

    May 26, 2021 at 2:48 pm

    You forgot to mention that those “opposing views” belong to some very wealthy folks some of whom have contributed a fortune to Desantis PACs, and stand to lose money if sensible limits on cruise ships are imposed. Key West voters approved 3 referendums on the matter overwhelmingly for good reason. Massive ships churning up silt does coral no good, not to mention fishing or water clarity and no study is necessary to know that. Just look.

  • Key West

    May 26, 2021 at 7:53 pm

    So now the citizens of Florida are just subjects to be ruled upon? Regardless of the locals saying that the ships are too big for the Key West shallow port? Does DeSantis fancy himself king?!

  • Sarah

    May 27, 2021 at 6:58 am

    You don’t need a study to visibly see the difference that it’s made in the water quality. If we continue to allow these larger ships to come through and contribute to the waste that’s going into the waters, in the long run there won’t be a reason for people to come down anymore. Keep Key West a gem!

  • Average Joe

    May 31, 2021 at 5:08 pm

    What local governing board? The city of Key West governs the port. The city of Key West had Three separate referendums. The voters have spoken.

    The cruise industry and those who have been profiting for years at the expense of the locals and the environment ran a dark money campaign and used every dirty trick in the book to try to kill the referendums. They still lost.

    Now some state legislators who don’t represent Key West, get to ignore democracy and undermine the voters of Key West.

    How’s a Key West voter supposed to stop them from getting re-elected?

  • Bahama Bob

    June 4, 2021 at 5:00 pm

    So the population no longer has a say in what they do and do not want? It was voted on, the matter is settled. Or it was until DeSantis accepted a million dollar bribe from the owner of the pier in Key West.

    What a crook.

Comments are closed.


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