By Jai-Leen James, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – Biscayne Bay is in danger of losing an entire ecosystem, according to a Miami-Dade County grand jury report last week. Grand jurors described the situation as “a tipping point.”
There are concerns raised about the spillage of “millions of gallons of sewage directly into Biscayne Bay,” the grand jury said. The board investigates matters of great public concern and issued a report on the matter.
“I’m really pleased that the grand jury took up this central issue. Biscayne Bay is central to our economy here in Miami, to our community, to our identity, and I think that they laid out a lot of the threats facing the Bay,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director o an environmental advocacy group, the Miami Waterkeeper. “I hope that the county and other regulatory agencies take notice and take action on it.”
The grand jury recommended that the state of Florida pass a statewide ban on plastic bags. The panel also suggested that Miami-Dade County establish a plastic bag and plastic bottle buyback program, a popular practice in many European countries, including Germany. Another recommendation is to add a 5-to-10-cent value on the plastic products to discourage use.
Additionally, the panel suggested that Miami-Dade County and other municipalities install better grates on street drainage infrastructure and regularly clean the grates. Increased signage could encourage people to properly dispose of their trash so that it doesn’t not end up in the Bay.
Their final analysis listed threats from septic tanks, pollution and cooling canals at Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point nuclear power plant. “It is obvious that the health of our precious Biscayne Bay and our underground drinking water is at a state of precarious balance,” the grand jury wrote.
A no-swim advisory was in effect in areas of Miami Beach after a sewer pipe leak Wednesday, August 7th. According to city officials, a contractor working for a private utility company damaged the city’s sewer main line causing the release of the wastewater that has polluted the beach.
There are high levels of fecal bacteria in the area, according to the Florida Department of Health. Authorities are advising swimmers to avoid the areas of 1st Street through 5th Street and the area of Biscayne Bay from South Pointe Drive to 14th Street.
In the same period, there was also evidence of wastewater pollution at Virginia Beach, Crandon Park – South, Haulover Beach, North Shore Ocean Terrace and Collins Park at 21st Street.
A study published earlier this month in the Estuaries and Coasts journal reviewed water monitoring throughout the Bay from 1995 to 2014. The data revealed that parts of the bay is progressively filling with chlorophyll and phosphorus.
Evidence suggests the Bay’s plentiful seagrass meadows and clear water could disappear transform into green water and masses of algae.
“Those are warning signs that it’s already starting to happen,” said Chris Kelble, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab on Virginia Key and co-author of the report. “My personal feeling is that we’re already getting pretty close.”
Kelble says that once a water body switches, it’s almost impossible to switch back. To date, Biscayne Bay has lost, at a minimum, 21 square-miles of seagrass. “The entire balance is further threatened by rising sea levels,” the report says.