Miami corals covered in sand while nonprofit awaits response from officials



By Hannah Deadman


The corals in Biscayne Bay might soon attend the University of Miami.

Because of an Army Corps of Engineers’ dredging project in Biscayne Bay, Miami, the corals will be removed from the bay in order to protect them from being damaged further by sediment buildup from the dredging.

Other recent dredging endeavors, like the Jupiter Beach Renourishment and Palm Beach Renourishment projects that are also along South Florida’s Atlantic coastline, have raised the topic of conversation among residents as well as officials.

Simply put, dredging is the removal of sediment buildup from the ocean floor to sediments at a healthy level and condition – especially to protect passing ships, which could easily be damaged if there’s too much buildup.

Dredging is also used to build or replenish a beach that’s been eroded because of excessive wind and wave activity or human constructions like jetties and groins.

Though often a costly and long procedure, dredging is a necessary process, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

But it’s more than just taking a barge out to remove sand. Special permits are required, including justifying the need for dredging and making sure the project won’t harm the environment.

Biscayne Bay’s $205 million dredging project recently received opposition from the EPA when divers from nonprofit organization Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper found and took photos of staghorn coral covered in sediment last October and contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about what they saw.

The organization’s director, Rachel Silverstein, said she believes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ dredging barges were leaking, causing sediment to cover the corals.

This was after Waterkeeper staff noticed sediment buildup last July and asked the Corps to repair the ships to reduce damaging the corals more. The Corps said they would fix the problem, but Silverstein says she found the sediment last month still covering the coral, with some species buried about six inches.

The Corps was given a 60-day notice to improve their methods, but didn’t do anything about the problem. Last October, the Biscayne Bay Waterkeepers called for an emergency injunction hearing with the Corps to resolve the issue, but the Corps refused to move the threatened corals even after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s recommended they do so.

NOAA and the Corps reached a $400,000 agreement last month to remove the corals from Biscayne Bay and transport them to the University of Miami, where the corals will remain for two years until the dredging in the bay is complete.

Silverstein has visited Biscayne Bay twice last month, and despite the plans to salvage the Corals, Silverstein said she saw both threatened and unthreatened corals covered in sand more than several centimeters thick.

Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper recently wrote and sent reports to the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA and Broward County based on their findings in the bay. Currently, they are waiting for a response from the Corps.
“We’re concerned for sea grasses and other wildlife in the area,” Silverstein said. “Kayakers and divers use the [bay], too. But the Corps is still using the same barges with [holes].”

Though the Corps is currently considering Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper’s report on the seagrasses in Biscayne Bay that have also been affected by the dredging, Silverstein says the bay’s corals and her organization are in a waiting period.

“I’ve never seen a reef as damaged as the reefs are here in Miami,” Silverstein said. “It’s a lifeless reef, but reefs are to protect our coastline, fish, they’re great for diving and they’re a treasure we have to save.”