“The Corps’ report misleadingly and conveniently blames the disease and warm temperatures for the destruction of our corals, but all of the available evidence, including evidence from every other federal, state, and local government agency involved, shows that the Corps’ dredging that was smothering the reefs long before the disease even began,” said Miami Waterkeeper executive director Rachel Silverstein.
The Corps is required to monitor the area for at least another year to determine whether permanent damage occurred that would need to be addressed.
The PortMiami expansion is nearly complete, making Miami the first port in the State of Florida capable of accepting the supersized ships that will soon sail through the expanded Panama Canal. But we do not believe that the PortMiami dredging project has been the unmitigated success its proponents claim it to be. The evidence is clear that the dredging operation, which began in November 2013, has deposited an asphyxiating blanket of sediment atop our coral reef: the same reefs that protect Miami Beach’s imperiled coastline from storm surges; support our teeming fish populations; and help sustain our booming tourist industry. Many Americans do not know that South Florida is home to the only coral reef tract in the continental United States: as unique as the sequoias of California or the geysers of Wyoming, and no less deserving of our protection.
“The Corps has been dragging their feet and not providing the information,” said Rachel Silverstein, a marine biologist and executive director of Miami Waterkeeper.
The more time that passes without an accurate survey, she said, the harder it will be to save struggling coral or determine just how much damage has been done. In June, Silverstein surveyed the area and found surrounding reefs dusted with silt. Fisheries Service divers found a similar moonscape, with sediment about a half inch to four inches deep.
“Everything is being eroded out there and it’s hard to tell what has died,” she said. “That information is critical to holding the Corps accountable.”
“Conservation biologists, for the most part, are supremely passionate about the places and things they study. If a call comes in the middle of the night, the professional culture within conservation biology encourages scientists to answer. Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper. “The problem comes with concentration, and if there are too many people in one spot peeing in the ocean or sewage spills there can be big problems.”
“On two separate dives last week, Waterkeeper divers found and photographed sickly staghorn coral that had been transplanted from the channel to a nearby artificial reef a year ago for protection. The photos show tagged colonies now coated with sediment and dead or dying.”
“This settlement is a win for the environment and for local taxpayers, who are still on the hook for the Army Corps of Engineers’ mess. Our reefs and bay are ecological and aesthetic jewels, critical to our clean water economy and local culture. It’s a shame, and shameful, that we had to sue the federal government to get it to follow federal law.”
“Silverstein said that even bringing the Corps to the bargaining table was a victory.
“I’m proud and impressed that a tiny organization like us or the other plaintiffs can call on the Army Corps of Engineers, this behemoth of bureaucracy, and they have to appear down here and be held accountable,” she said, adding that the agreement was “an amazing outcome.”
Nonetheless, the NOAA report is “a very big deal,” says Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, another environmental group against the dredge.
“This is confirmation of what we’ve been saying all along,” she says. “It’s bittersweet for us because it confirms that our reefs have really been devastated because of the project. That’s not easy to hear but hopefully it does spur the Corps to action to actually do something to help the corals before it’s too late.”
In the meantime, a lawsuit threatened by the Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper environmental group and captain Dan Kipnis still looms. The group’s attorney, Jim Porter, said Wednesday they are keeping an eye on talks.
“We want give DEP and [NOAA] and the Corps every chance to get this worked out,” he said. “But if they’re unable to do so, then we’re prepared to go forward.”
“Our goal is not to stop the dredging but to ensure that the environment is protected and that everyone follows the rules set out when the project was started, and that’s not happening,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper.
“So far, it seems the agencies are focused on trying to remedy the damage that’s been caused rather than prevent future damage,” Silverstein said.