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Visit with Miami Waterkeeper Rachel Silverstein

Mangroves Providing Shelter in Biscayne Bay

Mangroves Providing Shelter in Biscayne Bay

After I left Art Basel this past weekend, I was fortunate to be able to meet with Miami Waterkeeper Rachel Silverstein again.  She took me to the David T. Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove, where we walked to this section that still has a beautiful stand of mangroves.  During the course of this project, I have learned how important mangroves are for filtering runoff and other sources of pollution, as well as the critical role they play in maintaining the stability of our shorelines.  This time I learned how important they are for providing shelter for marine life, especially in very developed areas like the shoreline of Biscayne Bay.  While I was photographing the mangroves and we were talking, Rachel spotted a baby nurse shark feeding among the roots within a few feet of the shore.  It was impossible to photograph because of the reflections and color of the water but wonderful to watch.  

Rachel Silverstein Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper

Rachel Silverstein Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper

Rachel talked about the many issues facing Biscayne Bay, one of which is sea level rise and the constant flooding it is producing.  I certainly witnessed that walking around to the various art fairs over the weekend.  When it rains, the streets flood instantly because the storm water drains are lower than the water level of the Bay and the laws of gravity mean they back up right away.  I even saw wastewater backing up in places.  To alleviate the problem, the City of Miami has installed costly pumps across the city, which are the source of much contention.  The problem is that they pump the runoff from the streets, with all the oil, pet waste, and other pollutants directly into the bay with no filtration. Rachel said this makes mangroves and natural riparian landscaping even more important.  When runoff passes through plants and soil on its way, more of the toxins are filtered out before it goes back into the water.  However, in areas with lots of development, this is not possible and all the pollutants leach into the water at full potency reducing water quality to unhealthy levels.  

Trash from Biscayne Bay

Trash from Biscayne Bay

Right near the mangroves, in an area of the shoreline where there were rocks and fewer plants, all this trash had washed up and become trapped.  It was amazing to see all the garbage that we throw in our waterways expecting it to somehow disappear.  The problem is water moves and bodies of water are interconnected. Trash floats around until it gets washed up on coastlines, until the next flood when it is picked up by the current and dropped somewhere else. Our conversation made me realize how critical it is to think about what we put in the water.  The old model of the solution to pollution is dilution no longer works, if it ever did, because the overall quality of our water systems has become so impaired.

Other issues we discussed included the destruction of coral reefs from dredging for shipping lanes and the harm discharge from the Turkey Point Nuclear Reactor, literally carved out of Biscayne National Park, is causing the Bay. Rachel said plans are in the works for two more reactors to be built on the site considering just one foot of sea level rise over the next 50 years-a pretty scary proposition in both our minds.