Photos showing large deposits of silt and sand coming from a cruise ship that had to make an emergency port call in Key West on Wednesday have reignited the debate about the restrictions local voters agreed to place on visiting cruise ships.

Key West voters in 2020 overwhelmingly approved limiting the size of ships and the number of ships and passengers and giving priority to those with the best environmental records, but shortly afterward, the state Legislature passed a law, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it, prohibiting voter initiatives dictating cruise ship port calls and traffic.

The photos show large areas of the nearshore waters near the Shipping Channel being enveloped by silt and sedimentation, which has been the rallying cry for supporters of the cruise ship restrictions. They contend the plumes can suffocate coral and fish stocks and have dire impacts on the Florida Keys fragile marine ecosystem.

Representatives with the group that proposed the voter referendums, Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships, took drone footage of the ship coming into port in Key West on Wednesday that detailed the large amount of silt and sedimentation.

“We understand that the port call was necessary because of the potential for a loss of life,” said Capt. Will Benson, board member at-large with Safer Cleaner Ships. “We support the Coast Guard’s decision to bring in the ship. However, this event offered us another opportunity to see why there is something grossly wrong with bringing in three ships in one day on a regular basis. The environmental damage is clear and that is why the limits were approved.”

Such plumes will generally dissipate within 20 minutes after a ship passes and not cause extensive harm to corals and fish, responded John Wells, whose company Caribe Nautical provides services for cruise ships visiting Key West.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard coordinated the medevac of an 81-year-old man from the Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas cruise ship in Key West.

The Serenade of the Seas’ personnel safely transferred the man to emergency medical services and was then transported to Lower Keys Medical Center.

The cruise ship’s physician reported to Coast Guard Sector Key West of the man’s critical medical condition and need for higher-level care as quickly as possible. A Coast Guard flight surgeon concurred and recommended the man be brought ashore, according to the Coast Guard.

“Due to the man’s medical emergency, making the decision for the cruise ship to come into Key West to transfer him safely to EMS was the medically necessary option to save his life,” said Capt. Adam Chamie, Sector Key West commanding officer.

The man was in stable condition but has sepsis, Chamie said Thursday on U.S. 1 Radio.

The ship’s emergency call comes as the Key West City Commission continues to struggle to codify the voter referendums into city ordinances the city can implement. At a recent Key West City Commission meeting, Commissioner Sam Kaufman proposed mediation between both sides of the debate and have them sit down at the table and come up with a compromise or a solution.

“All this talk about compromise is beside the point if Pier B can’t agree to follow the law,” said Arlo Haskell, treasurer for Safe Cleaner Ships. “Their operations have violated state and federal water quality standards for years. The people of Key West were reminded of what this looks like up close yesterday, and I don’t think anyone wants to go back to the bad old days of seeing that kind of disruption 800 times a year.”

Wells refuted the environmental claims when it comes to damage to coral, but said quality of life and quality of visit impacts from having large numbers of cruise ship passenger in the small island town at one time is a “legitimate argument.”

“We can talk about that,” Wells said. “It’s got merit. I think we can start there.”

Key West Port and Marina Services Director Doug Bradshaw could not give a firm date as to when the first cruise ship will return to Key West. Ships scheduled to come into Key West have remained on the schedule, but as those port calls get closer, the calls are being canceled, Bradshaw said.