Destruction In Biscayne Bay Could Cost Millions

The sun sets over Biscayne Bay. Photo courtesy of Steve Sauls.

Joshua Ceballos/Staff Writer

Steve Sauls loves kayaking in Biscayne Bay every morning, but he’s afraid that he won’t be able to for much longer. 

The former vice president of Governmental Relations says that in his retirement he prefers to spend his time out on the waterwhen it’s safe enough to do so.

“I go out and explore the Bay in the mornings to take pictures of the sunrise, or at night when the moon is high, and it’s magical,” says Sauls. “But I observe the water, and I see the plastic debris and pollution.”

Similarly, Piero Gardinali, an avid swimmer, has for years taken a dip in the crystal-clear waters near the Oleta River, but lately he checks the Florida Health Department for advisories about beach closures.

Part of Gardinali’s research as director of FIU’s Southeast Environmental Research Center involves finding answers to his most pressing question.

“Why is this happening and what are they doing to fix this? Most of these contaminants are invisible to the naked eye,” Gardinali says.

Victor Jorges/PantherNOW

Biscayne Bay has been the site of major sewage leaks, wastewater drainage and historic seagrass die off. The Bay is said to be in a “state of emergency” by members of the Miami-Dade County appointed Biscayne Bay Task Force, and FIU’s own president says that the Bay is in need of help, even before the recent repeal of water quality rules under the Clean Water Act.

But what does this mean for the people of Miami? Sure, the seagrasses are dying and the ecosystem is undergoing a major change under the surface, but does it really affect the lives of regular Miamians?

In 2005, an engineering firm called Hazen and Sawyer published a study on the economic impact of Biscayne Bay, which includes the Port of Miami. According to the report, recreation in the Bay alone brought in $2.1 billion in income and made up over 57,000 jobs for residents in the county.

Those numbers have gone way up by 2019, says Irela Bagué, chairwoman for the Biscayne Bay Taskforce.

“Nowadays condos are selling for $17 million on Biscayne Bay. It’s our economic heart and our quality of life,” Bagué tells PantherNOW.

Bagué, co-vice chair of resilience for the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, says that in recent years Biscayne Bay has exploded with property development, and the major driver is the Bay and its beautiful views. If water quality continues its decline, the city has millions to lose.

A more recent study from Miami Waterkeeper in 2019 says that as a whole, Biscayne Bay is worth more than $60 billion in ecosystem goods and services including flood risk reduction, water quality management, and carbon emission storage.

At FIU, the recent massive sewage leak in the Oleta River cancelled recreation activities scheduled at the Biscayne Bay Campus.

Jonathan Torrey, recreation coordinator for BBC Wellness and Recreation, heads up the kayaking excursions that go out on the Bay. The sewage leak was the only instance when Wellness and Recreation had to cancel kayaking trips and hold off on any activity, Torrey says.

“We can’t take people out on the water while the water is dangerous. Safety is our first concern,” he says.

Sauls, whose kayaking and lifestyle are also threatened by the Bay’s decline, says events like the leak are only going to keep happening unless something is done about it.

“We have an aging sewage infrastructure that needs to be fixed, rusty pipes that are bursting,” he says. “We need to build a groundswell of community support, and FIU is a big platform.”

Sauls will join local advocates and FIU affiliates at the Biscayne Bay Marine Health Summit at BBC on Friday, Sept. 20. This is the second marine health summit at the campus, but Sauls and his colleague Joel Trexler, director of Marine Science at the University, call this the “action summit.”

“The purpose of this summit is to come up with a list of actions so we have a concrete plan we can present to the state government for approval,” says Trexler.

Students interested in attending the summit can email trexlerj@fiu.edu for entrance tickets.

This story is the second installment in a series about the Biscayne Bay

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