Biscayne Bay Fishkill Reveals Miami-Dade’s Incompetence in Combating Climate Change

Raphael Alegbeleye/PantherNOW

Hayley Serpa/Staff Writer

In early August, the first of what would soon become thousands of dead fish shored up next to FIU’s Biscayne Bay campus. Large numbers of our most precious ecosystem contributors seemed to have been systematically killed by some invisible culprit. 

These dead fish are just the most recent in a long chain of events that have consistently ruined Miami-Dade county water quality and destroyed much of our south Floridian flora and fauna. The Biscayne Bay fishkill has also unveiled the recurring inefficiencies of county authorities in responding to climate change at the local level. 

As for why such a huge mass of marine life died, the scientists on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, as well as many FIU academics, have been successful in pinpointing a wide variety of causes for the Biscayne Bay fishkill. Using water samples obtained from the affected area, it was discovered that lack of sufficient oxygenated water killed the fish. 

The anaerobicity of water is caused by a multitude of reasons; high water temperatures, heavy rains, pollution, runoff, turnover and large algal mats of  Sargassum that consume oxygen as they decompose. The persistence of low levels of oxygen, especially in the northern part of the bay, can also be attributed to the decreased amount of oxygen-providing seagrass. 

Although the news of the Biscayne Bay fishkill might have been shocking, it is just one of the more recent instances in which the quality of water has been put at risk by the continuing nonchalance of the local Miami-Dade government towards growing environmental problems in the city. 

Just this March, almost 1.4 million gallons of raw sewage spilled into Biscayne Bay after three aging sewer lines erupted. This is over half of the sewage capacity for the county. Some of the sewage infrastructures in Miami are over 80 years old and are on the brink of bursting. Yet again, this shows the unreliability of local administration in taking care of the fragile south Florida environment. 

A recently published study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in conjunction with the Marine Biology department at FIU has observed and documented over twenty years of pollution data on Biscayne Bay based on forty-eight different stations in the area. In their study, they state that Biscayne Bay has lost over twenty-one square-miles of necessary seagrass in the past twenty years due to seagrass die-offs. They also describe the persistent algal blooms in Biscayne Bay, like the one that was triggered after the mid-August fishkill and the seagrass die-offs, as indicators of an environmental change occurring. 

The NOAA and most of the scientific community are all in agreement about the large role that nutrient pollution has played in the gradual climatic change of the Biscayne Bay ecosystem. Nutrient pollution is defined as the process in which too many nutrients are added to bodies of water thus causing outbreaks of algae. Much of the excess nutrients come from fertilizer use, leaky septic tanks, sewage and stormwater drainages. In response to the results of their study, the NOAA has been advising Miami-Dade cities surrounding the bay to implement stricter pollution control practices. 

Both state and county officials have neglected to take the advice given by NOAA. They have neither gotten rid of septic tanks nor repaired the outdated sewage infrastructure. Miami Waterkeeper, an advocacy group that helps monitor water quality in our city, has been attempting to ratify fertilizer ordinances that protect our waters from toxic nutrient runoff caused by excessive residential fertilizer use. In their model, they hope to strictly regulate the use of fertilizers by everyone in the county.

Even though many warning signs have been given to the local government about the growing problem that pollution and climate change have presented in Biscayne Bay, Miami-Dade remains one of the last counties in south Florida without a fertilizer ordinance. 

The lack of regulation of pollution practices in Miami-Dade has also greatly altered the quality of water for the county. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit advocacy group, found that the water samples collected in Miami ranked third highest in the country for the presence of harmful chemicals called PFAS. PFAS, or polyfluoroalkyl substances, are commonly found in household products like fire extinguishers and other cleaning products. 

These chemicals are especially harmful due to their longevity. They are colloquially known as  “forever chemicals” as they can stay in your body for years and can cause certain kinds of cancers when consumed in large amounts. 

The Biscayne Bay fishkill has helped expose the unsafe environmental practices in Miami-Dade and the effects of climate change at the local level. It brings the global issue of climate change right to our doorstep as a local Miami problem. If we do not establish stricter regulations on pollution and update our outdated sewage pipes, we will continue to face this issue again, with perhaps even greater consequences. 


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

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