Ever since the Miami Deep Dredge of Biscayne Bay began in June, evidence has been mounting of the significant environmental damage that is taking place. Silt has spread across the Bay, burying coral reefs under a suffocating layer of sediment and bacteria.
According to the Miami Herald, "State divers sent to survey the site in July found the project was churning up too much sediment and having a 'profound effect' on the sea floor, a critical habitat for threatened staghorn and elkhorn coral. Sediment had created a moonscape, with some areas buried by six inches of sand drifting from the dredge."
This resulted in a 44-page warning letter from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection about possible violations and non-compliance by the Army Corps of Engineers. The letter includes dramatic photos of the damage that has resulted from the dredging project.
Last week, the Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper had to resort to a federal lawsuit to stop the destruction. The Army Corps is fully aware of the problem and has received several warnings, yet they have failed to assume responsibility and take action to resolve these serious legal infractions. “The Army Corps of Engineers has, from the very beginning, failed to comply with even the limited conditions placed on them by their permit,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director and waterkeeper for Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper.
Just as the Army Corps claims that no significant harm will occur to the St. Johns River, the agency made the same promises prior to the start of the Deep Dredge in Miami.
The tragedy is that this is occurring, even after the Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper already forced a legal settlement in 2012 that required signficantly more monitoring, protections, and mitigation. Unfortunately, the devastation to the coral reefs has continued unabated for several months while the Corps has shrugged it off, claiming they have done nothing wrong and stating that “some environmental impact is unavoidable."
Regarding the St. Johns, the Army Corps has required virtually no mitigation to offset potential environmental damage from dredging the river, and little assurances have been provided that action will be taken to address unanticipated impacts, like those occurring in Miami. This may be because they know that the environmental harm caused by the likely increase in salinity in the river simply can't be reversed or mitigated for.
While scientists will hopefully be able to relocate and save some of the coral in Miami, you can't relocate wetlands, submerged aquatic grasses, and the fish and wildlife that depend on these critical habitats in the St. Johns. You can't recalibrate the migration patterns or extend the ranges of the blue crab, shrimp, and many fish species that will be forced to quickly adapt to a new salinity regime.
Let's hope the tragedy that is playing out in Miami will serve as a reminder to Jacksonville that models are often flawed, decisions do go wrong, and unintended consequences can have lasting and devastating impacts on our waterways and ecosystems. We simply can't afford to make the same mistakes. As a result, St. Johns Riverkeeper remains opposed to the deep dredge of the St. Johns.
Click here to learn more about the proposal to dreepen the St. Johns River.