09/29/2013 02:38 pm ET Updated Nov 29, 2013

Cruise Ship Carnage

As an environmental lawyer who sues cruise lines on behalf of injured passengers, I often compare modern cruise ships to floating cities. And like many of the world's cities, these leviathans continue to grow both in size and in the number of people they unleash every day on ports around the world.

The cruise line industry not only wields extraordinary power over the local port's economy but also wreaks devastation on the delicate marine environments. Currently, the City of Key West in Florida is embroiled in an epic battle of trying to preserve its unique charm both above and below the sea while attempting to accommodate the demands of larger cruise ships, which are unable to dock at Key West's antiquated Port B. Think of it as trying to park a Greyhound Bus in a spot reserved for a compact car.

Silver Lining from Jekyll Works on Vimeo.

For Key West to make way for the newest cruise ships, its port must be dredged, widening the depth and breadth, which according to Will Benson's compelling documentary, Silver Linings, will cost taxpayers $35 million. Publicly, a group called the Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism (KWCRT) has engaged in a battle against the pro-dredging camp, largely led by the Key West Chamber of Commerce, which represents the interests of the business owners who rely for the most part upon tourism to survive. For example, the Chamber reported that in July 2013, a total of 47,655 cruise ship passengers disembarked at Key West, which was 29.8% fewer than in July of 2012, which saw 67,874 passengers disembark. Cruise ship passengers are so important to the Chamber that in its monthly newsletter it posts the name, date, and arrival time of each ship.

Probably few of us fully understand the difficulty of trying to balance preserving the historic charm of a romantic port destination with satisfying the insatiable appetite of the cruise line industry. Meanwhile, the cruise lines battle each other by building bigger and bigger ships, such as Royal Caribbean's Freedom, which offers everything from an ice skating rink and a rock climbing wall to a surfing simulator One group who does understand that delicate balance is the Venetians--who have welcomed seafaring tourists for centuries. A surprising alliance has emerged between the KWCRT and a like-minded group of Venetian activists known as the Comitato No Grandi Navi, which translates as "the Committee for No Big Ships."

On October 1, 2013, Key West's 52,526 registered voters will decide for themselves what is more important. My 14-year-old daughter Sara Rose, spent this past summer at a Sea Camp located just a few miles from the port, studying and enjoying the Key's unique marine biology. My hope is that in the future generations will still be able to experience that same natural beauty.