Nestled in the backyard of one of fastest growing cities in the nation, Biscayne Bay is a large, shallow, tropical lagoon that is ecologically and economically essential to the surrounding area. The Bay extends for nearly the entire length of Miami-Dade County (~35 miles long, 8 miles wide), stretching from Haulover Inlet to the north to Key Largo in the south. Seventeen of Miami-Dade County’s 36 incorporated municipalities border the Bay.
The Bay roughly is divided into three regions:
- North Bay
- Central Bay, and
- South Bay.
North Bay is heavily developed between Miami Beach and the mainland. The waterways suffer from sewage spills, artificial island creation, dredging, urban runoff, and loss of freshwater flow. The northern portion accounts for about 10% of the Bay’s total water.
Central Bay is the largest part of the Bay. It is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a series of shallow sand flats and tidal flow channels called the “Safety Valve,” which help to moderate the effects of storm surge.
Stiltsville, an appropriately named local landmark, comprises a group of wood houses on stilts built in the 1920s and 1930s. Seven buildings still survive and, although they are located in Biscayne National Park, are under the management of the Stiltsville Trust. Much of Central Bay is encompassed by Biscayne National Park. And while we’re on the topic of National Parks, did you know that Miami is the only U.S. city surrounded by two national ones: Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park? It’s true.
South Bay, nearly as large as Central Bay, is least affected by development, but it is not without its challenges. FPL’s Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant and the Black Point landfill are located along the shores of the South Bay, both having negative impacts the ecological health of the region. Like the rest of the Bay, South Bay also suffers from a loss of fresh water.
The Economic Importance of Biscayne Bay
Due to its clean water, pristine beaches, spectacular diving, and unparalleled fishing, Biscayne Bay fuels a booming tourism-based economy. Overall, the Bay contributed approximately $12.7 billion in economic output, supported 137,600 jobs, and generated $627 million in tax revenue to Miami-Dade County, according to a 2005 Hazen and Sawyer report. Aesthetically, the beauty of the Bay draws increased market values for real estate and provides breathtaking backdrops for numerous movies and television shows, including but not limited to The Bird Cage, There’s Something About Mary, and scenes from Caddy Shack. So we have that going for us, which is nice.
Miami-Dade County residents and visitors spend 65.5 million person-days (days when a person spends most of the day on or near the water), recreating on or around Biscayne Bay. These days are spent diving, fishing, swimming, sailing, snorkeling, picnicking, getting sunburned, and sightseeing. Annually, recreation on the Bay contributes an astonishing $3.8 billion in additional County productivity, provides $2.1 billion directly to County residents, creates 57,100 jobs and produces $257 million in tax revenues. Since 1980, recreation on the Bay has grown steadily in-line with increases in the local population and the number of visitors choosing south Florida as their vacation destination.
The Biodiversity of Biscayne Bay
Our water is an ecological and aesthetic jewel, with nearby fragile coral reefs, rolling seagrass meadows, and tangled mangroves forests. The diversity of habitats in Biscayne Bay in turn support a diversity of species throughout their life cycles. Many species begin their lives in the Bay, benefitting from the protection provided by seagrass and mangrove nurseries. Resident and migratory birds, such as anhingas, herons, and roseate spoonbills, live in and around Biscayne Bay, as do commercially important saltwater species such as bonefish, tarpon, snapper, stone crab, and lobsters. Our water hosts 500 species of reef fish and over a dozen threatened, endangered, or otherwise protected marine species such as manatees, sharks, turtles, and dolphins.
Commercial & Recreational Fishing
The Florida fishing industry creates over 80,000 jobs and $8.6 billion in economic activity.
Additionally, the Bay provides habitat for other important species at varying phases of their life cycles (e.g., ballyhoo, barracuda, black and red grouper, grunts, all snappers, yellow jack, mullet (the fish, not the hairstyle), parrotfish, and tarpon) that eventually are commercially caught outside of the Bay. Biscayne Bay provides critical habitat for these creatures, which include ballyhoo, barracuda, black and red grouper, grunts, all snappers, yellow jack, mullet (the fish, not the hairstyle), parrotfish, tarpon, snook, permit, stone crab, spiny lobster, and pink and white shrimp.
Good News/Bad News
The good news is: the value of the commercial fishing that takes place in Biscayne Bay has increased steadily since 1980. The not-so-good news: the harvest value of the species dependent on the Bay for survival, but caught outside the Bay itself, has declined significantly since 1993; it is possible that overfishing or habitat loss may be to blame. But there is hope. Sustainable fishing policies and carefully designed marine protected areas are necessary to protect and enhance commercial fishing opportunities that depend on Biscayne Bay.
Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. ~Henry David Thoreau
Recreational fishing now dominates fishing in – and is a significant economic driver for - South Florida. More than 85% of reef fish are caught by recreational anglers and over 2.4 million saltwater anglers visit Florida for fishing (and catching!) each year. The recreational community is a significant and valuable economic driver for South Florida, and encourages a community that is connected to the water. However, reef fish have been steadily declining since the 1960s and – much like children who refuse to sit still after eating too much ice cream (with sprinkles) - are particularly hard to manage.
(Compiled and Adapted from Hazen and Sawyer, Biscayne Bay Economic Study, 2005)