Proceeds from specialty license plates help fund Biscayne Bay recovery initiative

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – The recent rain soaking South Florida illustrates once again how all our pollution just dumps into the watershed every time there is a heavy downpour.

That’s why educating the public is so important if we’re ever going to restore the health of the ecosystem.

Doing that costs money, and Miami-Dade County is counting on everyone to pitch in.

This week’s torrential downpours released yet another dark plume of sediment that flowed into a fragile Biscayne Bay, most likely from unsecured deadly-nutrient-loaded sod that, before the rain arrived, was being installed at Bayfront Park.

It’s yet another reminder that the dying bay is constantly under assault.

“We’re in a dire situation, and we are now taking actions that should have been taken over 20 years ago,” said Miami-Dade Chief Bay Officer Irela Bague.

Federal and state grants have been procured to help fund the capital improvements needed, with shovels already in the ground to begin to connect the county’s failing septic tanks to sewer lines to stop the onslaught of human waste spewing into the ground water and, eventually, the bay.

Upgrading outdated infrastructure and storm water systems are costly and heavy lifts that will take time to fix, but every single person living in Miami-Dade County can help lighten the load.

“We see things happening all the time, and most of the time people are unaware that their daily actions impact our environment and our bay,” said Bague.

Key to saving Biscayne Bay is a far reaching multilingual education campaign to teach residents how their everyday activities have an impact on the watershed.

Funding the campaign is the new, official Biscayne Bay specialty license plate.

It was unveiled at the end of last year, with proceeds feeding the Biscayne Recovery Fund earmarked for education and public service campaigns.

The problem is the county needs to pre-sell 3000 of the plates in order for them to go into production.

So far, less than 500 have actually been ordered.

The philanthropic incubator The Miami Foundation is spearheading the initiative.

“For $35 you can get a specialty license plate that, everywhere you drive, will educate people about the importance of this bay, and all of the dollars that are raised from it will go to protect the future of this bay,” said The Miami Foundation President and CEO Rebecca Fishman Lipsey.

The education campaign aims to hammer home what everyone living in South Florida should already know by now: that everything done on land, no matter how far we are from any body of water, impacts the bay. The litter on the street, the trash people throw out their car window, the pet waste that doesn’t get picked up, the fertilizer put on lawns during the rainy season, all of that impacts our water quality.

Every time it rains, all of South Florida’s pollution and litter on land flows into the waterways that all empty out into the bay.

This is important messaging that needs to be amplified on billboards and signage at the airport, at beaches, on bus stops and public transportation all over Miami-Dade to underscore the need for everyone who lives in or visits South Florida to be more mindful about the footprint we leave on the environment.

“The health of this bay is the health of the future of our community,” said Fishman Lipsey. “We need to make sure anyone who lives here, who works here, and who plays here knows that and feels responsible for the future of these waters.”

Public service announcements, like those commissioned by Oolite Arts in 2021, could be airing regularly on local television channels to remind everyone to take care of our most precious backyard.

The county said sales of the specialty plates can spark more consciousness and inspire individual corrective action.

“A simple donation will help us raise the money we need to help educate our community and our tourists,” said Bague.

“It’s a great marketing device,” added Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. “Everybody who sees that license plate is going to realize that there is this precious resource right here and we need to protect it.”

For those who would like to volunteer and do more to help restore the bay, this Saturday is Baynanza, a countywide effort to clean up the shores of Biscayne Bay.

For more information on the specialty plates, click here.

About the Author:

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