MIAMI – It’s bright and early on a Saturday morning and the Miami Marine Stadium basin is quiet and peaceful, as it should be.
What a difference a sign makes.
There are now four of them in the basin, warning boaters: “SLOW SPEED, MINIMUM WAKE.” The City of Miami installed them last month, and residents who regularly recreate here say they’ve been a total game-changer.
“Much safer,” said Lenny Levy, who paddles here three times a week. “We don’t see them going crazy like they used to.”
Local 10 News has been reporting on the problem for months. Jetskiers were harassing rowers and paddlers. Irresponsible boaters were congesting the waterway, trashing the islands and shorelines.
“If you were to speak to marine patrol less than a year ago they would’ve told you this was the wild west — that’s how bad it was,” said paddling instructor Paolo Ameglio.
Ameglio spoke to Local 10 News last year when we reported on the enormous amount of litter that accumulates here, calling it “ridiculous” and “frustrating.”
Ameglio, other paddlers, rowers, and parents begged the city to address all the issues that were trashing the basin and making it unsafe.
The Coast Guard says illegal rentals of boats and jetskis boomed during the pandemic, as Miami saw a dramatic uptick in tourism, many of those visitors hitting the water with some not knowing how to properly operate a boat or jet ski. Add alcohol to the mix and it was a recipe for disaster.
“We have a lot of marine casualties that actually happen in Marine Stadium,” a Coast Guard officer said. “Jet skis slamming into the side of boats. ... Hitting people in the water, boats backing down over people in the water.”
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, last year there were 57 accidents involving boats or jetskis in Miami-Dade, three of them fatal, including one in the basin by the Rickenbacker Marina.
In 2014, the City of Miami deemed the basin a slow speed zone, but the state never followed through, and without the signs, marine patrol couldn’t enforce it.
“I walked over to people’s offices and I sat there and I said, ‘How can we get this done?’” said state Sen. Ileana Garcia, R-Miami-Dade.
Garcia got the state to move on the signs after touring the basin with members of the Coast Guard, marine patrol and FWC in August and witnessing the chaos firsthand.
“The fact of the matter was that we did need signage and we did need enthusiasm and motivation to move towards being proactive again, because I think everybody just got tired of nothing happening,” she said.
Garcia didn’t stop with just signs. She and state Rep. Adam Botana, R-Bonita Springs, have introduced the Boating Safety Act of 2022, a measure to crack down on illegal boat and jet ski rentals, increasing fines and giving law enforcement more muscle to enforce.
“With the Boating Safety Act, we will make sure that everyone who is handling a livery has to be permitted and that they have some type of liability and they have some type of accountability,” Garcia said.
The bill still has to be voted on, but Garcia has procured state funding to beef up marine patrol.
Miami-Dade County will get four new officers. City of Miami will get five, and there will be more patrol boats on the water.
But in six short weeks, the signs are already making a world of difference.
“The kids are reporting that they feel safe for the first time on the water,” said Miami Rowing Club board member Violette de Ayala. “They’re also reporting they’re seeing more marine life, more dolphins, more manatees.”
There’s also noticeably less litter.
“The difference is enormous,” Ameglio said. “It’s nothing like we used to have here. People are starting to behave better. People are starting to understand that they gotta take care of this resource.”
It is a sign we’re finally moving in the right direction and waking up to what’s at stake and what we stand to lose if we don’t act now to save it.
“Speaking up matters, and it produces results,” Ameglio said. “We still have a ways to go. Don’t lose faith, keep it going.”
Over the summer the City of Miami also increased trash collection to two times a week on both Willis Island and Pace Picnic Island, but the goal is still to get users of the Spoil Islands to pack up and pack out whatever they bring on.
If people don’t start picking up after themselves, the city, the county and the state are considering banning motorboats and jet skis altogether from using the islands.