Your Waterkeeper, Dr. Rachel Silverstein, sampling water quality in Biscayne Bay.
As Miami Waterkeeper continues to collaborate with other local groups in combating the ongoing threat of marine debris, we also continue our work on an equally serious but less visually perceivable marine issue: water quality. Water quality problems have persisted in the region but go largely unnoticed because it’s easier to turn a blind eye to something that you cannot see. However, the health issues for both marine life and humans is extensive, and so it is important that the issue gets the attention it deserves.
Marine Debris and Good Water Quality are Ranked the Highest in Importance by the Public
What are some ways that the water quality is impacted in Biscayne Bay?
South Florida is one of the nation’s largest and fastest growing metropolitan centers and is also simultaneously home to incredibly important ecosystems like coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass meadows. These ecosystems provide many services like shelter for juvenile fish and shoreline protection from storm surge for those living in the region. However, there are numerous ways that water quality can be impacted, but two sources in particular contribute to many pervasive issues:
- Sewage Spills: Despite the amount of people who use Biscayne Bay on a daily basis, and the heavy reliance on our ecosystems for tourism, Miami-Dade County still struggles to meet basic water quality standards. Sewage spills, much like the one we uncovered near Key Biscayne in 2017, have become more prevalent in our area. This is due to the archaic pipe systems meant to pump sewage offshore, which have a high potential for springing leaks, especially because these pumps are not inspected nearly enough. Couple that with large storms and/or hurricanes, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
- Stormwater Runoff: This is a fancy way of saying rainwater that moves along the surface of the ground. Whatever you see on the pavement, and whatever pesticides or fertilizers you use on your lawn, can end up polluting Biscayne Bay and beyond by means of storm drains and proximity to waterways. Unlike wastewater from homes and businesses, stormwater is only minimally treated before being released to the coastal environment. Not only does this stormwater often have environmentally destructive levels of nutrients (largely from fertilizers), but it also can have dangerous levels of bacteria, petrochemicals, toxic chemicals, and plastic debris.
Aside from both humans and marine life being exposed to chemicals and other unsafe sources of pollution, algal blooms can also be a major issue. Evidence indicates that increased levels of nutrients are entering Biscayne Bay and the surrounding reef areas. Nutrients, like Nitrogen and Phosphorus, are naturally occurring -- but can be too much of a good thing when found in high concentrations in our waterways. Additionally, these nutrients are associated with sewage, septic tanks, stormwater runoff, and fertilizers -- that is, they aren't naturally occurring.
Nutrient pollution contributes to algae blooms which turn the water green and smell terrible, smothering seagrass and killing fish -- they can even be harmful to humans. Biscayne Bay and our waterways are extremely sensitive to excess nutrients, so it is essential to keep these nutrients out of the water in order to avoid blooms.
With the help of this grant from the Paul and Maxine Frohring Foundation, what are we doing to address this issue?
To address these issues head-on, MWK was awarded a grant from the Paul and Maxine Frohring Foundation to launch a water quality monitoring program in Biscayne Bay. The goal is to use citizen science and in-house research to implement both a routine and opportunistic water sampling program for areas along the Bay that currently are not being tested. We will be testing for water quality parameters including bacteria associated with sewage. Our sampling results will be released on our existing water quality notification system -- Swim Guide. In working with local scientists and organizations, we hope to better understand pollutant prevalence in the Bay and better inform the public about the quality of the water they recreate in.
Our app, Swim Guide, is free to the general public and is an easy way to understand if the water is safe enough to swim or recreate in!
^ Check out the swim guide app by clicking the logo above!
Our Junior Ambassadors learning about water quality monitoring!
What can you do to help our water quality, so that our community and our marine life can thrive in a healthy environment?
- Minimize or eliminate fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide use—or switch to organic varieties that are not harmful
- Fertilize only in the dry season (winter)
- Plant native plants – they are naturally adapted to our climate and don’t require a lot of water and fertilizer
- Replace grassy lawns with native shrubs and trees
- Avoid overwatering your lawn
- Use limited slow-release fertilizers with Nitrogen only – Florida soil has enough Phosphorus and your plants don’t need it!
- Do not apply fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides if the forecast calls for rain
- Use mulch instead of herbicides to help control weeds
- Sweep up debris – don’t hose down your driveway
- Decrease paved areas and increase surfaces that allow water to soak into your yard
- Use fertilizer ‘socks’ to soak up polluted runoff near canals and waterways
- Have septic systems inspected and pumped out every 3 years
- Quickly fix septic leaks and address flooded septic fields
- Routinely check your car for leaks and dispose of engine fluids properly
- Take vehicles to a commercial car wash
- When washing your car at home, use detergents sparingly
- Pick up trash and litter around your yard and home
- Pick up pet waste and throw it in the trash
- Do not pour things like motor oil or cleaning liquids into streets or gutters; recycle them at your local Miami-Dade or Broward chemical recycling center or other designated locations.
- Participate in ocean cleanup events and contact your local political representatives (county, state, and national) to let them know that you support policies in favor of clean coastal environments!
- Support and follow Miami Waterkeeper on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to keep up on current water quality issues!
- Become a Miami Waterkeeper member or make a donation today!