By Timothy O’Hara

Free Press Staff

Key Haven voters overwhelmingly opposed a proposal to release genetically modified Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes in their community.

However, voters county-wide supported the idea of conducting a trial release somewhere in the Florida Keys, according to the Supervisor of Elections Office.

Of the 639 ballots cast in the Key Haven, 418 voters, or 65.4 percent, voted against the test release while 221 voters, or 34.6 percent, voted for the release.

However, countywide, 23,157 voters, or 57.9 percent, voted in favor of a test release, while 16,868 or 42.1 percent, voted against a release.

Barry Wray, executive director of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, called the results a victory. He argued that the coalition and other groups and residents had years to educate Key Haven voters on the private company Oxitec’s plan to release mosquitoes in an effort to control mosquito populations on Key Haven.

Only in the past two months has there been discussion about moving the trial somewhere else in the Keys and asking voters throughout the island chain if they would support the test.

Oxitec’s parent company hired two statewide public relations firms and donated $150,000 to a political action committee supporting the release, Wray said.

“I think we won,” Wray said. “The community that was properly educated on this issue voted against it. Given enough time, I think we can educate enough people that we can get 60 percent of the people against these guys.”

Derric Nimmo, who is overseeing the Key Haven project for Oxitec, said his company has not given up on conducting a test in the Keys.

His company has considered locations other than Key Haven, such as the city of Key West, the Ocean Reef Club in north Key Largo and south Stock Island.

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District board agreed earlier this year to place non-binding polls on the ballot asking voters if they support a test release if Oxitec’s mosquitoes.

A majority of the board said it would abide by the results of the referendum. The board will meet Nov. 19 to discuss the results of the referendum and decide what to do next.