Biscayne Bay used to be a subtropical paradise with clear water and colorful coral. But urbanization and population growth have polluted the water and imperiled fish, birds, manatees and plants, particularly seagrass.
At the inaugural Biscayne Bay Marine Health Summit on Wednesday, a crowd gathered to discuss two main problems: litter and chemical contaminants, and a massive seagrass die-off between the Venetian and Northeast 79th Street causeways.
Local officials, researchers, business owners and activists weighed in.
Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade County commissioner, District 8:
“I have learned so much science about what is causing the problems in the bay. And I have learned that this scientific information is not getting to the policymakers. We have to close that gap, and we need to move quickly, not only to create an inter-agency task force, but to look at what we can do in the short term.”
Dave Doebler, co-founder of VolunteerCleanup.org:
“My focus is on marine debris and plastic trash in the bay. I understand what I can see, but I’ve been learning about what I can’t see that’s causing tremendous problems. It’s all about what we’re putting into our bay.
“I’m mostly concerned right now about the impact of all of the water that’s flowing off of our street levels into the bay, which is not only bringing trash and pollution but also street runoff, which is causing a massive seagrass die off.”
Margaret Goodro, superintendent of Biscayne National Park:
“It’s going to take all of us working together to protect Biscayne Bay, which is really the largest economic stimulator for Southern Florida.
“It’s going to take all of us working together at the state, local and federal levels.”
Irela Bagué, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Resilience Committee; member of summit steering committee:
“We’re very much concerned from the business community. In South Florida the environment is the economy, and we feel that a healthy bay is an economic engine for the sustainability of South Florida. We have multimillion-dollar properties along our waterfront. We have a thriving tourism industry, and fishing. We need to protect that.”
Jane Gilbert, city of Miami chief resilience officer, 100 Resilient Cities partner:
“I came here really curious to understand why we had such a rapid die-off of seagrass and declining quality of the bay.
“What gives me the most hope is the presence of all the different partners we need to engage on this issue.
“There are 14 municipalities that have frontage on the bay, but all of them actually have some contribution to the bay through their stormwater runoff. So we need to have that collaboration.”
Harvey Ruvin, Miami-Dade clerk of courts; former chair of Biscayne Bay Management Committee; county commissioner, 1972-1992:
“My purpose here today is basically to point out that in the environmental community we all have to remain vigilant. Our victories are only temporary, whereas our defeats can be permanent.”
“New York has Central Park, London has Hyde Park and we’ve got beautiful Biscayne Bay. Let’s keep it beautiful.”
Capt. Dan Kipnis, fishing boat captain with 35 years experience on Biscayne Bay; served on Biscayne Bay Management Committee:
“We have problems with climate change, sea level rise, hotter water due to global warming, ocean acidification — all the stuff that compounds what’s going on with Biscayne Bay. And if we don’t start to act proactively now, we may lose the handle on it and not be able to get it back.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have funding around the board. You have to have money to do this. Without money we can’t even start.”
Albert Gomez, co-coordinator of the South Florida Resilience System, member of summit steering committee:
“This is where the conversation starts.
“We can make serious change based on people having a handshake, having an open discussion about it and finding solutions together.”
Comments have been edited for length and clarity.