By Theresa Pinto M.S., Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – Last month Miami Waterkeeper released their latest study, ‘Restoring Biscayne Bay and the Economic Value of Rehydrating Coastal Wetlands’, which valued the ecosystem services of a rehydrated Biscayne Bay at over $3.3 billion.
Biscayne Bay was designated a state aquatic preserve in 1974 and 1975, and is the largest estuary on the coast of southeast Florida. The bay shares borders with the southern Florida Everglades and Florida Bay and totals approximately 428 square miles.
The non-profit Miami Waterkeeper’s (MWK) new study, conducted by research analysts at Earth Economics, connects the Bay’s overall health with Miami’s coastal resiliency.
MWK asserts that, “Building resilience includes, but isn’t limited to, increasing protection from storms, ensuring reliable drinking water, enabling continued recreational and commercial fishing, and buffering sea level rise.”
The report highlights how rehydration of the Bay would build resiliency by improving wildlife habitats, reducing algal blooms, lowering salinity levels, maintaining healthy sediment loads, and increasing its capacity as a carbon sink.
According to the study, by providing annual ecosystem services valued at $120 million, over its lifetime the Bay is worth ‘$3.3 billion when treated as an asset.’
The study states that over the last 50-100 years, Biscayne Bay has become increasingly salty, leading to a loss in overall health and productivity.
Threats to our drinking water and oceans, exacerbated by sea level rise and human development, have led to recent algal blooms and seagrass die-offs in the Bay. Prior to 2005, no algal blooms had ever been recorded in the Bay.
This isn’t the first time Biscayne Bay has been deemed in peril however. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection determined it was an ‘impaired waterbody’ in 2017 due to high nitrogen levels.
More recent headlines about Miami Beach’s stormwater pumping system do not bode well for Biscayne Bay either. The City is on the hook for pumping sediment and other particulate debris into the Bay, washed away from its streets during storms, and helping to kill the seagrass and mangrove habitat.
But that is exactly the opposite of what needs to happen to prepare for sea level rise, according to the region’s resiliency plan, Resilient305.
After an April 25th meeting with the County Department of Environmental Resource Management, Miami Beach was given 45 days to take action and submit a new plan to alleviate the dumping of sediment over the sensitive bay environment.
Miami Waterkeeper is a registered member of the internationally recognized Waterkeeper Alliance and is one of nearly 300 independent Waterkeeper organizations working for clean water around the world.
MWK describes themselves as part investigator, scientist, educator, and legal advocate, functioning as a public spokesperson for the Bay, protecting citizen’s right to clean water and empowering the public to defend waterways.
Correction: This article was updated on July 6th to clarify Biscayne Bay is home to two state aquatic preserves. The first, Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve, was established in 1974 and runs the length of Biscayne Bay. The second aquatic preserve, named Biscayne Bay-Cape Florida to Monroe County Line, was established in 1975.