To the Editor: Improving our vision

To the Editor: 

Earl Brechlin’s editorial last week, like the Town Council’s Nov. 17 cruise ship discussion, started well. After a year without, we seem ready to step back, reassess, even get historical and consider how we came to have so many big shipsBrechlin suggests it’s the slow-boil method, that like frogs we enjoyed the warm water before it got so hot. Gary Friedmann, in the council’s first attempt at a re-think, similarly opined we now just have too much of a good thing.” I appreciate the shift – it’s a start – but want to suggest something a bit stronger: maybe cruise ships, especially the big ones, really aren’t a good thing after all. Not in a pandemic, not in our fragile ecosystem and not for a town of 5,000 that already sees over a million road tourists annually. 

We’re waking up to the risks and realities of large ships and simultaneously to how nice life is without them. Let’s go further and look hard at how much we really gain (and who precisely), and how much we lose. When I read Brechlin’s suggestion that we merely cap “megaships” at one per day, I think we’ve been boiling in this soup too long. And hearing the Town Council similarly shift from promising words about re-thinking and citizens’ input to a stunning punt over to the cruise ship committee, asking them to consider how we might reduce visitation, I fear we’re falling asleep again. I’m reminded of my own big declaration (age 5) to run away from home, and how it fizzled when I remembered I wasn’t allowed to cross the street. We can. It’s up to us, as vigilant citizen-protectors of a beautiful harbor town, to decide our future policy. 

We’re far from alone with this problemand we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to solve it. We can start by looking down the coast (all the way down) to Key West where they had a similar 2020. Their warmer waters returned to clarity not seen in decades. Their vision cleared too: they discovered – no doubt with some adjustments – they could do just fine without cruise ships. They stopped feeling resigned and overwhelmed by the past (the roughly million passengers from 400 ships in 2019) and mobilized, quickly, getting three referenda on their November ballot—all of which passed by more than 60 percentand one by 81 percent ( They now allow only ships with fewer than 1,300 passengers, cap daily totals at 1,500 (from multiple smaller ships) and give priority to ships with better public health and environmental records. They based their 1,300-passenger cap on studies showing higher rates of disease on bigger ships. Key West citizens are confident that in clearing their harbors of megaships, they make way for something better – smaller ships and overnight visitors that all bring more return. 

Bar Harbor, too, needs to build on the lull that was 2020 and reimagine a future in which, wide awake, we manage our relationship with cruise ships—in my opinion, a “frenemy” even in the best of times.  


Cara Ryan 

Bar Harbor 


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