Saving Biscayne Bay: Miami-Dade needs summer fertilizer ban, scientists say

Watch Saving Biscayne Bay at 8 p.m. on Local 10

MIAMI – Jim Kirk has been a landscaper in South Florida for more than two decades. He said fertilizer doesn’t have to be used so frequently. Once applied, he said, it lasts for about three months.

Kirk said he is worried about how the overuse of fertilizer affects water quality. He is among the people in Miami-Dade County who believe its overuse is contributing to the decay in Biscayne Bay.

“I know that fertilizers are probably the biggest problem at this point,” Kirk said.

Brad Schonhoff is among the scientists who agree with Kirk. He is the program manager at Florida International University’s Southeast Environmental Research Center.

“It has a huge impact. We have so many different places that it can come in from,” Schonhoff said, adding that “a little bit can have a big impact.”

Kelly Cox represents Miami Waterkeeper, an advocacy group that focuses on water quality. She has also lectured at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science.

“You might add nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous in fertilizer to your lawn to help it to grow,” Cox said. “Nutrients, when they get into the waterway can help algae to grow and that creates a problem for the health of Biscayne Bay.”

Miami Commissioner Ken Russell said this is why the city banned the use of fertilizer during the summer when heavy rains wash all of that fertilizer runoff into the waterways that feed the bay.

Key Biscayne and North Bay Village also issued similar bans. Russell said Miami-Dade needs to follow the example and help enforce the bans. Cox agrees. Miami Waterkeeper is among the organizations that have been lobbying for Miami-Dade to adopt the ban.

Fertilizer ordinances in Miami-Dade County (Local 10 News)

There are also ongoing state and federal efforts.

Before the recent fish kill in northern Biscayne Bay, there was a team working on improving the bay’s fresh water supply. The team was advising the South Florida Restoration Task Force Working Group, which oversees some Everglades restoration projects.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, damaging freshwater released from canals has affected seagrass areas of Biscayne Bay and there is an ongoing $3 million effort to help fix this and other environmental issues in South Florida.

As a landscaper, Kirk believes he can do his part to help save Biscayne Bay. He believes everyone in South Florida has a part to play because there is an emergency.

“The environment is in trouble and it’s struggling,” Kirk said.

For more information about the ongoing crisis, watch the 8 p.m. Local 10 News special Saving Biscayne Bay and join the conversation on Facebook.

About the Authors:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.