New study finds over half a million corals killed during Port of Miami dredging
Miami Waterkeeper, Rachel Silverstein, Ph.D. (305) 905 0856, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shedd Aquarium, Kelsey Ryan, (312) 692 3346, email@example.com
USF College of Marine Science, Kristen M. Kusek, (727) 692 6482, firstname.lastname@example.org
Data show dredging caused widespread damage to coral reefs that protect Miami’s coastline and support fishing and tourism
MIAMI, Fla.— A team of researchers published findings this week that reveal significant damage to Miami’s coral reefs resulting from the dredging at the Port of Miami, which took place from 2013 to 2015. Using data collected by environmental consultants during the project, the authors found that large amounts of dredging sediment buried 50-90% of nearby reefs, resulting in widespread coral death. The results, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, estimate that over half a million corals were killed within 0.5 km of the dredged channel, and that dredging impacts may have spread across 25 km of Florida’s reef tract.
For the study, researchers reanalyzed data from a monitoring program that had attributed most of the documented coral losses in the area to a region-wide outbreak of coral disease that occurred at the same time. This new study controlled for these impacts by looking at losses of coral species that were not susceptible to the disease and by testing whether corals closer to the dredge site were more likely to die during the dredge period than those further away.
“It was important to differentiate these multiple impacts occurring on the reefs to understand the direct effects of dredging specifically,” said Dr. Ross Cunning, research biologist at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and lead author of the study. “We brought together all the available data from satellites, sediment traps, and hundreds of underwater surveys. Together, the multiple, independent datasets clearly show that dredging caused the major damages observed on these reefs.”
The researchers also studied whether sediment plumes – milky clouds of suspended dredging sediment visible from space – could predict impacts observed on the reefs below. The authors found that plumes detected using satellites had a remarkably high correlation with impacts documented on the seafloor. This is the first study to show that satellite data can be reliably used to predict dredging impacts on corals and their habitats.
“This connection allowed us to predict impacts beyond where ship-based monitoring was taking place, and showed that dredging likely damaged this reef several kilometers away,” said co-author Dr. Brian Barnes of the University of South Florida. “While this same relationship may not apply in all projects, this is a remarkable finding that further establishes Earth-observing satellites as independent monitoring tools to fill in gaps where data are otherwise not available.”
Florida’s reef tract is the only nearshore reef in the continental United States, and coral cover has declined by at least 70% since the 1970’s. Staghorn corals, which were once common in shallow water, have declined an estimated 98% and are now threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The affected areas adjacent to the dredge site are of high conservation value and have been designated as “critical habitat” for the recovery of these threatened staghorn corals.
“This study provides a clear and scientifically robust estimate of the impact of this dredging project on Miami’s coral reef resources. It tells a devastating story of loss that we cannot afford to ignore any longer,” said Dr. Rachel Silverstein, Executive Director and Waterkeeper of Miami Waterkeeper, and co-author of the study. “We hope that these findings will provide valuable information to guide restoration of the impacted reefs and prevent these kinds of impacts in the future.”
Coral reefs are the most biodiverse marine ecosystems on the planet, supporting commercial and recreational fisheries, protecting coastlines from storm surge, and fueling important local economies throughout the world. Each year, snorkeling and scuba diving in Florida account for almost 9 million visitor-days, create almost 30,000 full-time equivalent tourism-related jobs and contribute hundreds of millions of dollars directly to the Florida economy. Nationwide, coral reefs provide over $1.8 billion in flood risk reduction annually.
“Coral reefs worldwide are facing severe declines from climate change,” said Dr. Andrew Baker, Associate Professor of Marine Biology and Ecology at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and senior author of the study. “If we want to conserve these ecosystems for the generations that come after us, it’s essential that we do all we can to conserve the corals we still have left. These climate survivors may hold the key to understanding how some corals can survive global changes. We have to start locally by doing all we can to protect our remaining corals from impacts, like dredging, that we have the ability to control or prevent.”
Cunning R, Silverstein RN, Barnes BB, Baker AC (2019). Extensive coral mortality and critical habitat loss following dredging and their association with remotely-sensed sediment plumes. Marine Pollution Bulletin 145:185-199. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2019.05.027
Read the paper here: (Link active until July 13, 2019): https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1Z6MD,ashtxky
Miami Waterkeeper is a South Florida-based non-profit. Our mission is to protect South Florida’s watershed through citizen engagement and community action, ensuring swimmable, drinkable, fishable, water for all. Through our work, we hope to ensure clean and vibrant South Florida waters and coastal culture for generations to come. www.miamiwaterkeeper.org
Disclosure: Miami Waterkeeper was involved in litigation against the Army Corps of Engineers for Endangered Species Act violations during the Port Miami “deep dredge” project, and is involved in current litigation over the planned Port Everglades dredging.
The John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago sparks compassion, curiosity and conservation for the aquatic animal world. Home to 32,000 aquatic animals representing 1,500 species of fishes, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds and mammals from waters around the globe, Shedd is a recognized leader in animal care, conservation education and research. An accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and the first U.S. aquarium to be awarded the Humane Conservation™ certification mark for the care and welfare of its animals by American Humane, Shedd is also an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, and is supported by the people of Chicago, the State of Illinois and the Chicago Park District. www.sheddaquarium.org
The University of South Florida College of Marine Science (www.marine.usf.edu), founded more than 50 years ago in 1967, is one of the top ten marine science programs in the country. Offering Ph.D. and M.S. degrees, it leverages an annual research budget of about $20 million to foster innovation and understanding in biological oceanography, physical oceanography, geological oceanography, chemical oceanography, and marine resource management. The USF College of Marine Science (USF CMS) is also a leader in the public understanding of science, and has been the lead institution of global research program developed in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest in history. It serves as a major research and economic engine for the St. Petersburg Innovation District and sits at the heart of one of the largest marine science hubs in the country that also includes the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the Florida Institute of Oceanography, SRI International, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, and the US Coast Guard.
Dredging Deja Vu - We need your voice to protect our reefs! There's still time to submit your comments. Email comments to CESAJ-MiamiHarbor@usace.army.mil by November 26, 2018.
We need your help to stand up for Miami's reefs to protect them from dredging again-- AGAIN! Yes, that's right. We're as shocked as you are.
We recently announced that our efforts secured the restoration of 10,000 threatened corals following the PortMiami dredging -- a huge victory for our reefs.
But, what we didn't know was that the Corps didn't dredge deeply enough the first time around -- and they're coming back for more. That's right, the Port of Miami will be dredged AGAIN.
We can't allow this to happen.
Stand with us and say "Enough!" Submit written comments to the Army Corps at CESAJ-MiamiHarbor@usace.army.mil and tell them what you think about their plan to dredge on top of our reefs. Read some of our talking points HERE! (We made it even easier for you.... click HERE for a letter template of what to send the Army Corps!)
We invite all of those who care about the status of our local reefs to submit public comments for the potential second dredging project at PortMiami. This helps the public process to aid in developing alternatives as well as information needed to evaluate alternatives.
The final day to submit comments is November 26, 2018.
Learn more about our most recent fight to protect our corals, and see what they're up against this time around:
Florida’s reefs are invaluable to the economy, ecology, and livelihood of South Florida. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is poised to start a major dredging project in Port Everglades without implementing protections that will save nearby corals. During a similar dredging project at Port Miami, just 30 miles south, the Corps illegally harmed ten times the number of corals predicted and caused severe impacts to an area of reef that would cover 200 football fields. In 2014, Miami Waterkeeper and co-plaintiffs filed an Endangered Species Act lawsuit to get these corals protected and restored. Hundreds of threatened staghorn corals have been rescued as a result, but many more were buried alive and now need restoration.
We are trying to avoid a "Dredgeful Situation" in Port Everglades. The Corps has signed the Record of Decision for the dredging of Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale, which makes the project eligible for approval. But, the Corps’ current project plan for Port Everglades is based on demonstrably false data and assumptions, and still fails to protect imperiled coral.
Are you worried about the safety of Florida's reefs during the dredging of Port Everglades? Sign the petition, add your voice.
It's time for better protections for reefs.
In a race to expand U.S. ports to accommodate larger, next-generation shipping vessels, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is targeting ports along the eastern seaboard for expansion and dredging. The Port of Miami was first on the list, where the shipping channel bisects a once-thriving coral reef and threatened staghorn corals and their critical habitat. Since construction began in November 2013, our reefs have been smothered by sediment from the dredging. Despite mounting recorded violations, the Army Corps failed to stop the impacts or its contractors, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, accountable for the damage.Read more
[embedlycard url="http://www.climatecentral.org/news/florida-dredging-corals-in-crisis-20333"] "We’ve had bleaching of corals due to high temperatures; we’ve had a really terrible regional disease event last summer,” Silverstein said. “A lot of these things feel like they’re too big to be dealt with on a local level. But avoiding impacts from dredging is something we can control on a local level.”Read more