press release

Rachel Silverstein's 10-year Journey of Water Wins for Miami

The Organization Has Become a Local and National Force for Its Research, Advocacy, and Community Impact

Miami, FL.—June 3, 2024—Ten years ago today, Rachel Silverstein, Ph.D. joined Miami Waterkeeper (MWK) as its sole employee, with just a few months of salary in the bank. A decade later, the organization has 22 full-time and nine part-time staff, focusing on scientific research, policy and advocacy, and education and outreach on behalf of clean water. Silverstein’s team dives headfirst into everything from nuclear power plant regulation to sea-level rise resiliency, from coral reef protections to fish kill response. Over the last decade, Miami Waterkeeper has become a force in South Florida, built from the ground up. 

Being the Miami Waterkeeper and working with our talented team has been the honor of a lifetime. We are continuously challenged by the complexity of the solutions before us, but seeing the needle move on key issues inspires us to keep working toward our mission and vision for a sustainable and resilient global future, with Miami at the vanguard,” said Silverstein. 

In June 2014, four days into Silverstein’s new job, she received a phone call from the New York Times. They’d received a tip that the PortMiami dredge project was burying protected corals in sediment. With no staff and limited resources, her only option was to utilize her scientific training studying corals and strap on a SCUBA tank herself. 

There was little visibility, the water clouded by sediment. “It looked like a moonscape,” she said. She thought that they had the coordinates wrong, that they had descended on a sandbank instead of the reef. Finally, she spotted a sea fan emerging from the sediment, which she knew must be attached to a rocky reef bottom. “We’d found the reef, but it was gone—buried under dredging sediment.” The moonscape continued as far as she could swim.

Although the Army Corps of Engineers contractors claimed the extent of the reef damage was only six corals, Miami Waterkeeper secured the restoration of 10,000 staghorn corals and published a robust peer-reviewed study demonstrating that millions of corals were likely killed during the project. Last year, after a decade of research and legal fights, the federal government finally released a report that supported the findings: 278 acres of severely impacted reef and millions of corals likely killed. The full extent of the damage has still never been fixed. Now, the organization is working to address the reef impacts, while fostering innovation and solution-oriented advocacy.

The lessons Silverstein learned, and the team she assembled, have enabled Miami Waterkeeper to grow its advocacy and impact. The water wins over the last decade include: leading the response to a major fish kill crisis in 2020 and focusing on root-cause issues polluting Biscayne Bay; helping to pivot a plan to build a 30-foot concrete seawall, which would have destroyed the waterfront and damaged communities; forming a nationwide coalition to successfully challenge the Turkey Point Nuclear Plant’s risky operating license extension, which failed to consider climate change adequately; and identifying and stopping multiple major sewage leaks. Miami Waterkeeper has also led crucial research coalitions and spearheaded critical campaigns around septic contamination, sewage leaks, and fertilizer pollution.

Ten years ago, no one—Silverstein included—could have predicted the growth or impact of Miami Waterkeeper. Alongside an ever-expanding team of scientists, advocates, educators, and partners, she has even bigger plans for the coming decade and many more Water Wins for Miami.  

Ten Years of Water Wins:

  1. Coral Reef Conservation — We’ve restored 10K+ threatened staghorn corals, and rescued hundreds from the PortMiami dredging. We likewise ensured a 5+ year delay in the dredging of Port Everglades near coral reefs.
  2. Green Infrastructure Accelerator Project — We spearheaded an effort to develop community-led, innovative designs to combat heat, improve water quality, and mitigate flooding, while building a more sustainable and resilient future for our communities and ecosystems.
  3. Turkey Point Nuclear Facility — Our combined science, legal, and coalition-building strategies resulted in an unprecedented reversal by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, elevating nationwide nuclear power plant regulations to consider key climate impacts. 
  4. Environmental Crisis Response — When pollution created one of the biggest fish kills in Biscayne Bay’s history, MWK coordinated a response to organize the community around science and the pollution inputs negatively impacting Biscayne Bay.
  5. Weekly Water-Quality Monitoring — Our program has collected 5000+ water samples taken across thirty South Florida locations every week, published for the public as soon as they are available.
  6. Marine Debris — We’ve coordinated thousands of volunteers and hundreds of events across the region, resulting in the collection of ~20,000 lbs of trash since 2017.
  7. Novel Research — We’ve led and participated in critical scientific studies around nutrient pollution, green infrastructure, and water quality improvement, publishing six peer-reviewed papers and submitting dozens of technical reviews. 
  8. Back Bay Study — Our research and advocacy has pushed the Army Corps of Engineers to move away from concrete walls and toward Nature Based Solutions to combat sea level rise, fostering national changes in policy and direction.
  9. Clean Water — We’ve advocated for eight municipal and county-wide fertilizer ordinances, six styrofoam and/or single-use plastic bans, a septic disclosure ordinance, and catalyzed a county-wide review of stormwater compliance. In July 2017, we caught word of a massive, long-ignored sewage leak—10 million gallons of wastewater flooding into the bay near Virginia Key. Through legal advocacy and media strategy, we got the leak shut down in just three days.
  10. Empowering Young Leaders — We have graduated 90+ students from our Junior Ambassadors program, and the 2024 class looks to be our biggest class yet.


About Rachel Silverstein, Ph.D.

Prior to joining MWK, Silverstein was a Knauss Sea Grant Fellow and Professional Staff for the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard. Silverstein graduated cum laude from Columbia University, and in 2012 received a Ph.D. in the Department of Marine Biology and Fisheries from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science. Her research focused on the effect of climate change on reef corals (genetic methods to answer ecological questions).  Silverstein has delivered keynote addresses and has been quoted in hundreds of press articles, including multiple pieces in the New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, the Today Show, Bloomberg, and more. She has also published many Op-Eds and peer-reviewed scientific literature. Silverstein has been awarded the international Elevate Prize, the Miami Herald’s Visionary Award, the Florida Wildlife Federation’s Water Conservationist of the Year, the University of Miami Abess Center’s Reitmeister Award, and others. 

About Miami Waterkeeper

Miami Waterkeeper is a non-profit organization that develops local solutions to global challenges and protects South Florida’s waters by advocating for resilient solutions grounded in science, rooted in nature, and driven by community. As a leader in environmental advocacy in South Florida, Miami Waterkeeper envisions a resilient South Florida that is a global leader in clean water solutions, where thriving communities and nature coexist. For more information, please visit


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For more information, interviews, and digital assets, please get in touch.

Rebecca Sharpe. Chief Marketing Officer. +1(305) 905 0856. Email: [email protected]


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