By Louis Aguirre
Published: December 28, 2022, at 8:15 PM
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – The final Don’t Trash Our Treasure of 2022 takes a look back at the stories that made the biggest impact over the past year.
Local 10 News’ ongoing mission with this franchise is to enlighten and engage more of South Florida to care and make a difference in helping and saving our local environment.
The year 2021 was the deadliest ever for Florida’s manatee population. More than 1100 died, the majority starving to death from the massive loss of their only food source: seagrass.
Thousands of acres of seagrass has been lost due to human pollution.
“It is heartbreaking that these animals are starving because there’s just no food,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Regional Director and manatee expert Tom Reinert.
In February, Local 10 News was the first to document a FWC emergency feeding station set up at an intake canal at the Florida Power & Light plant on the Indian River Lagoon, where every winter some 2500 manatees gather looking for warmer waters.
“Some animals did come in and start eating and we believe that the sound of them crunching lettuce attracted the others,” said Reinart.
The hungry manatees were fed 2500 lbs. of lettuce a day.
Though this year the number of recoded deaths is lower, so far 783 have died, those watching over the gentle creatures say the crisis if far from over.
With more than 100,000,000 sharks being killed globally each year, last week President Biden signed the monumental Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, banning the commercial trade of shark fins in the United States. This on the heels of increased protections for 54 species of sharks just passed by world governments in November.
But here in South Florida, there’s controversy.
“The status of shark populations around the world is definitely something to worry about,” said Florida International University shark researcher Diego Cardenosa.
Its regarding a shark fishing tournament held off the coast of Palm Beach in July which ended with 11 bull sharks killed.
Local anglers claim the shark population has boomed in recent years and more sharks are stealing their catch.
“You’re losing 50 percent of what we hooked to sharks,” said tournament organizer Robert Navarro.
Scientists push back against that claim, believing it’s not more sharks in the water, it’s more boats. Florida now has a record breaking 1,000,000-plus registered vessels, so more interactions with sharks are bound to happen.
“I wouldn’t call that a shark boom,” said FIU marine biologist Yannis Papastamatiou. “Remember, these were populations that were historically over-fished.”
From a reckless charter boat crew popping balloons into the bay waters of the coconut grove marina to a man seen on a wave runner chucking a beer bottle right into Biscayne Bay and more recently a group of litter bugs seen trashing a tiny island in Biscayne National Park, all caught on camera.
The videos shared with Local 10 News went viral and sparked outrage but perhaps more importantly, they triggered action from law enforcement, who went after all the polluters and held them accountable with arrests and fines.
The message was loud and clear: environmental crimes will not be tolerated.
“Because of the awareness that Channel 10 has brought to this matter, we are getting tips,” said former interim Miami-Dade Police Dir. Jorge Perez. “That’s just another testament to our community, trusting its police department…and we took immediate action.”
Just two years after an unprecedented fish kill during the summer of 2020 when Biscayne Bay lost over 27,000 marine species, it happened again at the end of October.
Though not as devastating as 2020, after a week, more than 4,000 lbs. of dead fish were removed from the north basin of Biscayne Bay.
“It is pollution coming from septic tanks, from storm water runoff, from sewage leaks and from fertilizer,” said Dr. Rachel Silverstein, Executive Director of Miami Waterkeeper. “But why the fish kills are happening on this particular day on this particular week is something we don’t yet understand that trigger.”
In November, Miami-Dade commissioners approved a plan by developers to expand the urban development boundary and convert farmland in south Miami-Dade into a new warehouse and commercial complex near Homestead on land conservationists say is vital to Florida Everglades restoration and saving Biscayne Bay.
“That’s the problem with this project, it is in the wrong, wrong place at the wrong time,” said Laura Reynolds with Hold the Line Colaition. “It’s never going to be the right project for this area.”
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava tried to veto the measure, but with a super majority vote, commissioners were able to override that veto and move forward with plans to move the UDB.
But not so fast.
Longtime Miami-Dade resident Dr. Nita Lewis has filed a legal challenge and has petitioned the state for a formal hearing to review the commission’s decision.
The Hold the Line Coalition is supporting the challenge.
“We cannot let that stand,” said Reynolds. “And I think we need to reject this wholeheartedly.”
The fate of Biscayne Bay, Florida Everglades restoration and farming in south Miami-Dade all hang in the balance.