Ultra Music Festival (Ultra) is a three-day music festival scheduled to take place on March 29th, 2019 for the first time on Virginia Key. Ultra issued a public Environmental Plan (EP) to evaluate the event’s environmental impacts and proposed mitigation/remediation measures.
Miami Waterkeeper wrote to the organizers of Ultra to address the inadequacy of the Environmental Plan which included three key points: (1) The EP included unjustified conclusions about the festival’s ecological impacts, (2) biological surveys that inadequately account for federally and state-protected species, and (3) environmental mitigation methods insufficient to protect habitat and species in the area.
Unjustified Conclusions about Ecological Impacts
Miami Waterkeeper’s letter discussed the presence of endangered or threatened species on or near Virginia Key. The manatee is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (both federal laws) and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act (state law). Under these laws, it is generally prohibited to harass or disturb manatees to the extent that disrupts their normal behavioral patterns. The EP states that individual manatees can leave the area and retreat to adjacent habitats if the noise and light disturb them. However, Ultra’s activities may constitute unlawful harassment because the noise may disrupt manatee behavior significantly, reducing their ability to meet nutritional requirements and driving them into adjacent water, where they face a greater risk of boat strikes.
Miami Waterkeeper also mentioned that the American Crocodile (threatened under the ESA) and some species of sea turtles (endangered or threatened under the ESA) may be nesting on Virginia Key at the time of the festival. The EP suggests creating crocodile holes in fences will allow the animals to move between fenced areas; however, Miami Waterkeeper stated that this result is unrealistic because crocodiles generally avoid humans. Although Ultra claims that sea turtle nesting season does not begin until May, leatherback sea turtles may nest on Virginia Key beginning March. Additionally, the EP does not address the impacts on animals in the Miami Seaquarium and gives little attention to the noise level effect on birds in the surrounding areas.
Miami Waterkeeper team members conducted pre-ultra ground transects and surveys to establish environmental baselines prior to the festival.
Inadequate Biological Surveys and Insufficient Environmental Mitigation Methods
Miami Waterkeeper claimed that the three biological surveys (one aerial and two pedestrian) on which Ultra relied for its EP were inadequate to discover the occurrence and abundance of protected species. The helicopter survey may have missed protected species covered by tree canopies, and the pedestrian surveys failed to inspect wooded areas. Therefore, many parts of Virginia Key have not been adequately surveyed. Lastly, Miami Waterkeeper asserted that the mitigation methods described in the EP are insufficient and requested that Ultra provide details regarding marine patrol services that will protect the manatees, coastal dune access restrictions, environmental monitors on the impacts to wildlife, and Ultra’s response during the event if a protected species dies.
In conclusion, Miami Waterkeeper asked that Ultra take the following actions: perform more surveys that examine areas surrounding the venue grounds; employ sufficient environmental monitors, patrol, and security; authorize monitors to stop performance when necessary to protect wildlife, and reduce noise pollution. Read the full letter HERE.