Erosion, rising sea threaten tourism

Written by Aliana Zamorano/Staff Writer

Environmental issues impacting South Florida are raising concerns about tourism throughout Miami’s beaches and the Everglades.

Recent worries from environmental scientists about beach erosion and sea level rise, as well as pollution and water diversion, predict consequences to Florida’s main economic source of tourism in the future, particularly Miami.

Miami hosted roughly 14.5 million visitors in 2014, which is the largest amount of tourists to date, and gained $23.7 billion from tourist spending, according to a Miami Herald article.

But if maintenance of the beaches is not kept, erosion and flooding may ruin the draw to visit Miami.

“In 20 to 30 years from now, if sea levels continue at this rate, Miami Beach won’t be what it is today,” said Nicole Hernandez Hammer, southeast climate change advocate for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy organization based in the United States.

Hammer referred to last week’s King Tide Day on Indian Creek Road, a day in which the tides are highest.

There were sandbag barriers holding back the canal water, threatening to spill out onto Indian Creek Drive in Miami Beach.

Hammer believes the barriers are just a band aid that will not be sufficient for the King Tides, as they become more severe as time passes.

“We are lucky that, today, people can walk along the streets,” said Hammer.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection already spends a minimum of $25 million yearly for restoration projects for eroded beaches. Now, it estimates that 407 miles of Florida’s beaches are facing coastal erosion.

Stephen Leatherman, a coastal scientist at the University, said in a Travel Weekly article last month that quality of sand is not the same as it was before and the restoration projects are becoming more expensive.

“Tourists might not think it as that much of a problem, but people who have been coming there a lot are going to want to see the same sand,” said Leatherman in the article.

Hospitality and tourism students at the University are also taught to be aware of environmental sustainability.  

“It’s such an alarming issue for our futures,” said Mariam Santamaria, senior hospitality major who has been required to take sustainable tourism and South Florida ecology classes. “I plan on working in Miami Beach. If, in a few years, the hot spot for vacationing is no longer nice enough to visit then a lot of people are going to be out of jobs. People need to realize that the environment has huge impacts on lives, too.”

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s public claim is to “ensure that Florida’s coast is as valuable to future generations as it is today,” while the Everglades Trust states that its purpose is to achieve a clean water supply for the natural systems that feed the Everglades as well as drinking water for South Florida.

According to a Pew Research center survey, only 45 percent of Americans consider climate change a problem.

“It’s good that FIU is taking part in bringing awareness to our sea level rise problem,” said Stephanie Coretto, student in the Professional Science Master’s in Environmental Policy and Management. “…These issues are not only going to affect Miami’s economy, but the daily lives of citizens. If tourists don’t want to come here anymore, what does that mean for the people actually living here?”

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons

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