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What is Biscayne Bay worth?

Graduate Student wins Data Challenge and evaluates economic & environmental health of Biscayne Bay thanks to NOAA Habitat Focus Area Grant

The bustling metropolitan area of greater Miami is known for its stunning shoreline. Beautiful beaches, clear waters, and diverse ecosystems draw hordes of tourists to South Florida each year. Unfortunately, the shallow tropical lagoon that abuts the iconic Miami skyline is at risk due to impacts from overuse, climate change, and water quality degradation. In partnership with Miami Waterkeeper and Florida Sea Grant, a team of University of Miami researchers has been working to isolate causes of water quality decline in Biscayne Bay and identify solutions. Master’s student Sammi Dowdell has been an integral part of this research effort, focusing her studies on the economics and spatial use patterns of Biscayne Bay fisheries and recreational businesses. Her research serves as part of the team’s contribution to the NOAA Habitat Blueprint Biscayne Bay Habitat Focus Area project,  a major multi-disciplinary initiative to monitor water quality in the bay and to prevent further degradation. In May, Dowdell’s project proposal won the first annual SECOORA Graduate Data Challenge, encouraging Dowdell to integrate additional coastal datasets with the social science data she is collecting.


Biscayne Bay Economic & Spatial Study

The Biscayne Bay Economic & Spatial Study explores Biscayne Bay’s economic and environmental health. The study’s specific goals are to determine the economic value and spatial use patterns of five industries operating in Biscayne Bay: commercial fishing, charter fishing, recreational fishing, seafood wholesale, and recreational water operations (such as SCUBA, snorkel, and kayak tour companies). Using online surveys and in-person interviews, Dowdell reviews stakeholder parameters such as investment capital in Biscayne Bay operations and return on investment from ecosystem goods and services. To understand how water quality affects the economics and spatial use of the bay, Dowdell is also evaluating industry perceptions regarding current and historic water quality conditions.

Results of this study will indicate which portions of the Bay are used most intensively, which areas are most economically important, and which regions are suffering from the most severe water quality degradation. This information will be used to inform management decisions, increase awareness of the bay’s value, and encourage environmental stewardship and conservation initiatives.

A publicly-available map portal is being developed to promote the practical application of this research in industry decision-making and policymaking. Anyone with internet access will be able to visit the Biscayne Bay Economic & Spatial Study webpage and visualize the results of the study using online maps. Users such as environmental managers, fishermen, and recreational water operators will be able to use the mapping portal to assess the economic risks water quality degradation poses to each Biscayne Bay focus industry. This information will be of key importance to policymakers who are concerned with current and future water quality degradation and the associated economic risks.


SECOORA Data Challenge

In May 2017, Dowdell’s project proposal for the Biscayne Bay Economic & Spatial Study won the first annual Graduate Data Challenge, hosted by the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA) . SECOORA is one of 11 regional coastal observing groups under NOAA’s United States Integrated Ocean Observing Systems (IOOS). These regional associations work with federal agencies to provide stakeholders with coastal observing data to promote sustainable use of marine resources and improved public health and safety. SECOORA’s comprehensive monitoring provides stakeholders with monitoring data related to the organization’s focus areas: marine operations, coastal hazards, ecosystems (water quality and living marine resources), and climate variability.

To accept the Graduate Data Challenge prize, Dowdell was invited to the SECOORA Annual Meeting in Melbourne, Florida. SECOORA members and stakeholders discussed Southeast coastal environmental issues and how ocean observing data could best be applied to address these concerns. I was very interested in the stakeholder outreach initiatives highlighted at the meeting," Dowdell said, "particularly how to best integrate physical oceanography and ecological observing data with socioeconomic and perception-based information. She determined that incorporating SECOORA Data Catalog layers (such as Southeast bathymetry, South Florida coral reefs, Florida saltmarsh, Florida mangroves, and seagrass patches) into the Economic & Spatial Study mapping portal would allow users to visualize the resources and habitats used by each focus industry, as well as those affected by water quality degradation. The Biscayne Bay portal will function similarly to the SECOORA data portal interactive map, but will be specifically focused on the Biscayne Bay region and will serve as part of the full Biscayne Bay Economic & Spatial Study story.

 The results of the Biscayne Bay Economic & Spatial Study will prove invaluable to the economic and environmental conservation of Biscayne Bay. The results of this study, in combination with data from the SECOORA Data Catalog, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and additional NOAA Habitat Blueprint studies, will serve as a critical component in ensuring the longevity of Biscayne Bay fisheries and recreational water operations, as well as a swimmable, fishable, drinkable bay.


For more information, please visit the SECOORA Data Challenge announcement and the Economic & Spatial Study web page.

Please direct all comments and questions to:

Sammi Dowdell

M.S. Student

University of Miami RSMAS

[email protected]

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