MIAMI – On a hot Saturday morning, a group of young rowers, paddlers, and breast cancer survivor dragon boat racers got together to clean up the Miami Marine Stadium basin.
This beautiful lagoon has become one of the trashiest areas of Biscayne Bay, because of others less mindful who also recreate here.
On this day, the group picked up over 3,000 pounds of litter. But the garbage is not the only thing trashing these once peaceful waters.
The rowers and paddlers say that ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the basin has become packed with party boats and water bike riders who don’t always play nice.
“It’s life-threatening every day. They’re threatening our children on the water every single day,” said Violette de Ayala, a Miami Rowing Club board member. “It’s just irresponsibility when it comes to our environment and the way that they’re abusing those who are pleasantly using the area.”
Cesar Herrera, the Miami Rowing Club head coach, says the jetskiers intentionally cause huge wakes to flip the rowboats over. He’s afraid one of his rowers is going to get seriously hurt or worse.
“They are running around the boat all the time, they are doing donuts around the boat,” he said. “It’s a dangerous situation we have every day with the kids.”
City of Miami’s Marine Patrol says so far this year they’ve issued 249 infractions to try and control the chaos in the basin. But they’re heavily outnumbered: only eight officers on eight boats to patrol 26 miles of bay.
“This is not just a weekend activity. This is a seven-day issue,” Lt. Alex Valdes said. “We’ve had some fatal accidents. We’ve had some close calls. And what we’re trying to do is just educate everyone and keep everyone safe.”
The basin is supposed to be a no-wake zone, the City of Miami designated it one back in 2014 but never followed through with the state, so no signage is posted, and marine patrol can’t enforce it. Now City of Miami District 2
Commissioner Ken Russell has filed the proper application with the state’s FWC Commissioner.
“I am very much in favor of implementing the no-wake zone,” he said. “We’re also looking at putting in an organized mooring field and that way we can control some of the traffic that goes in there, as well as the pollution, and that would set up which areas are for non-motorized and which areas are for controlled motorized use.”
Controversial boat ramp
Another battle is brewing: The city now wants to build a boat ramp on the west side of the Miami Marine Stadium as part of the stadium’s $45 million restoration project. But the ramp and parking lot for up to 77 boat trailers was not part of the original plan that had already designated that area to become a public park.
Last month, during a Virginia Key advisory board meeting, more than 50 people spoke out and 400 comments were submitted opposing the ramp.
“If you allow this boat ramp to go forth, it’s going to absolutely decimate the sea bed and everything that relies on it — the dolphins, the tarpon, the manatees, the eagle rays, I could go on and on.” paddling instructor Paolo Ameglio said at the meeting.
Opponents fear the new ramp will add more boats and personal watercraft to an area already strangled with congestion. For many, the mission to preserve this basin has never been more urgent.
“I’m a boater and I know what boat ramps look like. You have gas, you have oil, you have debris and all of that will negatively impact the environmental quality of the basin,” said Christine Rupp, executive director of the Dade Heritage Trust. “So in every way, it’s a very bad idea.”
The City of Miami maintains the boat ramp was already existing and that the Commission has already approved its restoration. However, it’s still not a done deal. No building permit or notice to proceed has been issued yet. And opponents say no traffic study or environmental impact study has been done, and they are vowing to fight it.
The City of Miami Commission is expected to take up the item again June 10.