MIAMI – A new federal report found that a past dredging project at PortMiami caused serious damage to more than 278 acres of sensitive coral reef habitat along the port’s entrance channel.
A local advocate says that likely means millions of corals were killed because of the project, which deepened the port channel in order to allow larger ships coming through the expanded Panama Canal.
The explosive 52-page report, titled “Examination of Sedimentation Impacts to Coral Reef along the Port Miami Entrance Channel, December 2015 and April 2016,” was published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Fisheries Service on Aug. 29.
It found that the project caused “moderate and severe” sedimentation impacts.
Read the report:
Rachel Silverstein, the executive director of Miami Waterkeeper, has been in a years-long fight with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to save Miami’s corals from being smothered in sediment from dredging at the port.
“We were trying to get them to change their practices so they would stop killing corals and they had been required to move the Endangered Species Act corals out of the way but they hadn’t done it,” Silverstein said. “Before dredging had started, they hadn’t predicted that any corals will be killed from sedimentation.”
Silverstein said the new study confirmed her organization’s warnings about the project.
“A part of that area they believe is no longer functioning as reef habitat anymore,” she said. “It is a false dichotomy to think that we can’t have dredging and corals together if we do dredging in a way that protects corals. We can likely have both.”
She noted that healthy corals are key to South Florida’s environment.
“They are a very potent coastal storm surge protection ecosystem. They have been shown to reduce wave energy by an average of 95% or more, so they are actively protecting us from storm surge,” Silverstein said. “They also support a very active recreational and commercial fishery, because a quarter of all marine life live on coral reefs during some part of their life, so if we lose the coral reef we lose of all of those species as well. Corals also provide eco-tourism benefits.”
The report concludes: “Future port expansions cannot further contribute to the downward trajectory of the condition of Florida’s Coral Reef and must be in the public interest.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville office said Wednesday it “has received the report at the same time as the public and needs time to review and validate its findings.”
Silverstein urged officials to “do a hard look at lessons learned and how to prevent this again.”
NOAA tells Local 10 News that’s exactly what has happened.
A NOAA spokesperson said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers committed to restricting dredging operations at Port Everglades based partly on what was observed at PortMiami.
The agency’s report mentions those efforts:
“Several substantial lessons learned from the Port Miami dredging have been memorialized in planning documents associated with Port Everglades expansion, including USACE commitments to prohibit rock chopping, prohibit or restrict of overflow, and adaptive management based on near real-time measurements of water quality and environmental conditions,” the report states. “The development of additional lessons learned and translation to dredging project best practices near coral reefs or other sensitive habitats is warranted.”