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Coral City Camera Helped Miami Through the Pandemic. Now Disney Wants to Park Ships In Its Place

Coral City Camera provides a near constant livestream of manatees, sharks, ray, parrotfish and other colorful reef fish in Government Cut at Port Miami.
Coral Morphologic
Coral City Camera provides a near constant livestream of manatees, sharks, ray, parrotfish and other colorful reef fish in Government Cut at Port Miami.

Miami’s popular reef cam, Coral City Camera, may be losing its home to a new dock for Disney Cruise Line.

Camera creator Colin Foord said he learned this month that PortMiami had quietly applied for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct the new berth near the port’s east end, where the camera has been live-streaming since late last year.

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It’s not clear where the permit was posted for public review. Foord found out from a camera fan in Colorado.

“We're now just trying to reach out to people at Disney to let them know that this is going to be an impact,” he said Thursday, wondering at the need for the expansion.

“Why are we spending $335 billion of county money, expanding a cruise ship port during a time when basically the entire industry is at a standstill and no one really knows when it's going to come back?”

Neither the Corps nor Disney Cruise Line responded to requests for comment Thursday.

An image included in a public notice for a permit to dredge near Port Miami shows the location of the new dock.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
An image included in a public notice for a permit to dredge near Port Miami shows the location of the new dock.

Foord originally installed the webcam as a side project to his work photographing, growing and researching urban coral near Miami for Coral Morphologic, the company he co-founded with musician D.J. McKay. Their work has included art installations during Miami Art Week, photography for National Geographic, video installations and, to launch Coral City Camera, a floating video billboard streaming footage outside the Perez Art Museum Miami.

In just a few months, as COVID-19 restricted travel, and made much outdoor activity off-limits, the camera gained fans worldwide.

It’s “really taken on a life purpose and meaning in this era of social quarantining and distancing,” said Foord, who initially obtained grants to launch the camera from the Knight Arts Challenge and National Endowment for the Arts.

Foord, who earned a degree in marine biology from the University of Miami, installed the camera under a permit administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In addition to drawing fans in search of soothing images of manatees, rays and a rainbow of reef fish gliding past the camera, the camera has also collected information for biologists studying a lethal new disease wiping out mounding coral. The camera was mounted on a manmade reef established by Miami-Dade County to mitigate for damage nearly a decade ago, when it installed a sewer line between Fisher Island and Miami Beach, Foord said.

“We wanted to have the camera showcase and highlight the work that is being done locally and by the government to protect the corals that we do have,” he said. “So we chose it because it's clearly a manmade environment.”

A port expansion negotiated in September 2019 initially included new space for MSC Cruises further west. In March, amid the pandemic, the deal was paused. But in July, MSC renegotiated the lease to get more time to work out financing, and to give the county more time to clean the site for construction.

As part of that deal, MSC said it wanted to operate a joint facility with Disney at the port’s eastern end. The new lease also allowed MSC to change the size and scope of the project.

The deal was meant to save both Disney and MSC money.

According to the permit the port submitted to the Corps, the proposed new berth would require dredging about 240,000 square feet. A consultant hired by the Port reported that only two colonies of disappearing stony coral were found.

But Foord, who has been diving in the area for a decade and regularly checks the camera, said there are many more in the area and at least five colonies along the 1000-foot stretch where the new berth would be constructed. A relocation plan would move some coral to a mitigation site, but Foord said the deeper water site may not be suitable.

The coral, which have managed to escape the stony coral disease hammering other reefs, also appear to be thriving, which could be a factor of their location.

Even if the coral are transplanted, Foord said fish drawn to the healthy reef would be displaced, and an area that he believes is one of the most diverse in the bay’s crowded north end.

“This summer has not been good for Biscayne Bay. We had the hottest summer on record. There were fish kills and poor water quality that really attracted a lot of media attention,” he said. “I consider it to be the crown jewel of our local coastal marine ecosystem. Even if it might be an artificial diamond, it’s still a diamond and something that is truly amazing.”

Jenny Staletovich is WLRN's Environment Editor. She has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years. Contact Jenny at jstaletovich@wlrnnews.org
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