New York Times: Despite Protections, Miami Port Project Smothers Coral Reef in Silt

This is sheer stupidity that the corps didn’t expect the sedimentation to be a major factor.  They should all lose their jobs. How many times does the corp get to screw up before someone calls them onto the carpet for it and actually does something to change their approach in the future? DV



A barge at the Port of Miami is part of a dredging program that activists say is hurting coral. Credit Ryan Stone for The New York Times

MIAMI — The government divers who plunged into the bay near the Port of Miami surfaced with bad news again and again: Large numbers of corals were either dead or dying, suffocated by sediment.

The source of the sediment, environmentalists say, is a $205 million dredging project, scheduled to end in July and intended to expand a shipping channel to make room for a new generation of supersize cargo ships.

The damage to the fragile corals was never supposed to have happened. In 2013, federal agencies created a plan to protect the animals from the churn of sand and rock by placing them at a distance from the dredge site. It was a strategy intended to balance Miami’s economic interests with the concerns of environmentalists, who worry about the rapid deterioration of reefs across South Florida.

Crucial to the plan was safeguarding the staghorn coral, a variety listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. But the vast majority of staghorn in the area was never relocated: Either it was missed during the initial 2010 survey by contractors for the Army Corps of Engineers, or it had spawned just as work began in 2013.


Rachel Silverstein leads the main group suing over the damage. Credit Pete Zuccarini

The corps, the agency in charge of the project, did relocate 924 other, nonendangered corals.

Florida and the Caribbean are rapidly losing their coral reefs, some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and the damage has raised intense criticism of how the Army Corps of Engineers has managed the project.

Environmentalists sued the corps in October, saying it violated the Endangered Species Act and the terms of a permit issued by the State Department of Environmental Protection.

“We’ve seen profound and severe impacts to our reef just off of Miami; it looks like a moonscape,” said Rachel Silverstein, the executive director of Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, the lead environmental group bringing the lawsuit. “This damage stems from the fact that the corps and the contractors simply weren’t following the rules that were laid out for them when they started this project.”

Reefs around the world have experienced drastic declines as a result of pollution, acidification and overfishing. Higher ocean temperatures, which can bleach coral and kill it, have also damaged reefs. Some coral near the port suffered from bleaching last summer. In certain areas of South Florida, 90 percent of the coral is gone.

In Florida, coral reefs lure residents and tourists, who dive and snorkel to see their vivid colors and the tropical fish that they attract. Just as important, reefs serve as crucial wave buffers during tropical storms, protecting beaches and shoreline homes.

A report completed last month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees endangered and threatened marine species, said 23 percent of the staghorn identified in the area by its divers in October was dead or dying. Another tract of nearby staghorn also appeared badly damaged but could not be fully surveyed.

The damage has prompted the corps and other federal agencies to dissect what went wrong, the extent of the harm and how best to avoid a repeat of similar problems.

A speedy review is especially important, environmentalists said, because Broward County, just north of here, is hoping to expand its shipping channel at Port Everglades, one of the country’s biggest ports and an area with considerably more staghorn than Miami. Environmentalists said they feared those plans repeated some of the mistakes in the Port of Miami dredging.

“The Army Corps will really need to sit down and try to figure out what happened in this case so we can design some better responses in the future,” said David Bernhardt, NOAA’s division chief for protected resources in the southeast.

The corps said it was possible that the Miami corals had been affected by the dredging, but it called the effects of the program “short term.” The corps defended its actions and said it had continually reported its concerns and findings to federal and state oversight agencies.

“We are reporting all of these things,” said Susan J. Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The corps, she said, is abiding by the rules of the permit and increased its monitoring of the corals once it learned they were ailing. In addition, Ms. Jackson said, the corps has not been charged with any violations by enforcement agencies and has diligently worked to correct problems as they have arisen. Lessons, she said, are always learned.

“We’re a learning organization,” Ms. Jackson said, adding that the corps was already better prepared for the Port Everglades expansion. “We take the lessons learned and apply them, not only to projects under execution, but to our future planning for projects.”

The loss of coral near the Port of Miami is indisputable. Federal and state divers reported finding some colonies so buried by sediment that they were virtually invisible. The sediment, reports by several government agencies said, was having a “profound” and “long lasting” effect on many corals.

Because coral needs light to survive, the cloudiness of the water has also worsened conditions. Divers reported difficulty seeing beyond five feet.

Though the dredge being used protects the reef from scraping, it appears to have caused more sediment than anticipated.

“Everyone was feeling the sedimentation issues would really be minor, so it sounded reasonable,” Mr. Bernhardt of NOAA said.

Shortly before dredging began, the corps realized it had significantly undercounted the staghorn near the channel; there were at least 243 colonies, not 31. NOAA approved a plan to move the 38 corals closest to the dredge about 820 feet away from the channel.

Things got worse from there. Underwater monitors created to measure the sediment did not work. The corps relied on divers to keep weekly tabs on the coral. Additionally, barges used to move the dredged material to shore were spilling or leaking sediment into the water.

Federal and state environmental agencies both asked the corps to remedy the barge problems. In a December letter to the corps, the federal Environmental Protection Agency listed 49 violations. The state sent its own letters about violations. The corps responded that it would fix the problems but denied that they were violations.

Last summer, NOAA, alarmed by the field reports, recommended the immediate relocation of the staghorns. After a delay, the corps paid NOAA to do the job in October. But half the dives were aborted, in part because the dredge was over the reef, making conditions dangerous. Divers managed to collect tissue from 77 percent of 205 ailing corals, though some had vanished or died.

Whatever the cause, in this case local taxpayers will bear the cost of the damage, which will be determined after the project is completed.

“I’m not quite sure that county taxpayers fully understand that they are on the hook for paying for this,” Ms. Silverstein said.

Coral-list: Coal of Thorns Greatest Threat to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Steve Palumbi and Iain McCalman has just released a conversation about the future of Australian and US reefs at blog site The Conversation:

We especially raise alarm about coal mining in Australia and its effects. Selling cheap coal to China so their air gets worse and the GBR is damaged? Who would start this lose:lose scenario? The following is edited from our conversation:

Iain McCalman: Coal lies is the biggest current threats to the Great Barrier Reef. Our government likes selling cheap coal to China and India.
They are expanding existing coal ports on the Reef, a decision fraught with implications for the health of the Reef.
The new coal ports all entail extensive dredging where it would choke corals and sea grasses.

Short-sighted, the policy sacrifices one of the wonders of the world and a substantial economic asset for Australian tourism; and this at a time when even China is trying to wean itself from coal.

The Great Barrier Reef might be an icon for us in Australia, but we seem to have governments that are proud to be icon bashers.

Steve Palumbi: Iain McCalman’s book shows Captain Cook delicately threading his small ship up coral-filled canals. Now blast a modern coal ship through there,
and what would you expect to happen?

One of the last huge threats to the whole Great Barrier Reef was the crown of thorns starfish.
This voracious predator wasted reefs all along Australia.
Now, the dangers of mining and ports makes this new threat the Coal of Thorns.

The Coal of Thorns is an even bigger threat – because it is something the reef has never seen
and it is on a huge industrial scale. What happens after you hurt the reef, export the coal, and then China turns to their
vast supplies of natural gas? Dead reef and a dead exporting business.

When the coral-eating Crown of Thorns began in the 1960s, people tried everything to stop it.
Folks picked them up by the thousands and burned them.  They would have loved to have the problem solved by simply passing a law.

This threat from coal is a problem created specifically by people. And it could be solved by people in a way that was never available
for the starfish scourge – a simple sign of a pen could do away with this major threat.


Stephen R. Palumbi
Harold A Miller Director, Hopkins Marine Station
Jane and Marshall Steel Professor of Biology
Stanford University

Coral-List mailing list

Dredging Today: Australia: Environment Minister Postpones Abbot Point Dumping Case

Australia Environment Minister Postpones Abbot Point Dumping Case

Australian Environment Minister Mark Butler has decided to delay making a decision on an application to dump 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, 50kms from the Whitsunday Islands.

The Minister’s decision has come just hours after his Government released a new report into the impacts of dredging in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, that shows the impact of dredging and dumping is much worse than industry and government thought.

“The Fight for the Reef Campaign welcomes the fact that the project, which would see millions of cubic metres of seafloor torn up and dumped in the waters of the Reef, has not been approved,” WWF-Australia spokesperson Richard Leck said.

“Today’s announcement of a delay shows that the Minister is taking this issue seriously, and we are pleased he is taking a thorough and detailed approach to a decision that is critical for the future of the Great Barrier Reef.

“However, given the deeply concerning new report released today that shows the harmful impacts of dredging have been considerably underestimated, we believe the Government will now have little choice but to eventually reject this application for Abbot Point and rule out Reef dumping altogether.”

AMCS spokesperson Felicity Wishart said dredging and dumping in the Reef World Heritage Area should be a thing of the past.

“These practices are outdated, and industry needs to change its ways if we are to save the Reef,” Ms Wishart said.

“The Minister has faced considerable pressure from industry to approve this dredging, and he has rightly resisted this in favour of making a fully considered decision.

“It is vital that the resources sector brings its practices into the 21st century – just as other industries have done already.

“Dumping millions of tonnes of sediment into the World Heritage Area is not acceptable. Australians want to see the Reef protected.”

Special thanks to Elliot Baron.

Key West Citizen: Reef Relief founder blasts channel study

Citizen page oneCitizen page 8


Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Reef Relief founder blasts channel study


BY GWEN FILOSA Citizen Staff


The couple who founded the nonprofit Reef Relief is urging Key West voters to defeat the Oct. 1 ballot question on whether the city should order a study on the impacts of channel widening.

“It is incredulous to me that anyone associated with protecting coral reefs would dispute this elementary fact of coral ecology,” DeeVon Quirolo wrote in a lengthy statement on the cruise ship-related ballot question released Sunday.

DeeVon Quirolo and her husband Craig retired from Reef Relief in 2009 and moved to Brooksville, Fla.

They have weighed in before on the dredging question, in 2011, but chose the eve of Reef Relief’s 26th annual membership meeting to release a fresh public statement on the matter, although none of the speakers Monday night mentioned the Quirolos’ recent statement,.

But a few Reef Relief members left a stack of copies at the registration desk that greeted about 100 guests, as a show of protest against the nonprofit board’s refusal to take a stance on the Oct. 1 ballot question.

“I joined tonight so I could do it,” said Alex Symington, as he peeled off his name tag sticker and wadded it up.

Symington, who paid the $15 to become a Reef Relief member for one year, wore his Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism T-shirt to the dinner, which the Casa Marina hosted for free.

Reef Relief included the cruise ship issue on its program, inviting a speaker from two opposing political action committees formed in advance of the general election to give five-minute statements.

But the nonprofit itself, which receives donations from a host of local businesses that range from Fury Water Adventures and Historic Tours of America to the smaller shops on Duval Street, has refused to take any position on the question.

“We are not in a popularity contest and we are not ‘political,'” Reef Relief President and CEO Peter Anderson wrote in a statement Thursday that Benson’s PAC widely distributed on Saturday.

Anderson dismissed the ballot question as “purely political in nature,” and said that Reef Relief is “literally appalled at the amount of money, time and energy that is ripping apart the fabric of our community over the issue of a study – a study that may or may not result in a dredge operation 10 to 15 years from now.”

Jolly Benson, a Key West native from the anti-study PAC, and attorney Jennifer Hulse from the pro-study movement that sprouted from the Key West Chamber of Commerce, took turns at the microphone.

The audience, however, was first asked not to boo or “make demonstrations” on either side of the argument and simply let the speakers have their time.

“I’m going to ask for some discipline from you guys,” said Anderson, who was reelected Monday night with no opposition. “No questions, please. Please just sit and listen respectfully.”

Benson, representing the Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism, drew a louder round of applause and a couple of cheers after speaking, but Hulse was given a kind welcome and response as well.

On the ballot this fall is a referendum asking voters if Key West should ask the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a feasibility study documenting the various impacts from dredging part of the city’s main ship channel to better accommodate “modern, longer cruise ships.”

A majority vote is needed for the question to pass.

Anderson accidentally introduced Benson as the speaker for “Support the Study,” the promotional campaign tag that the Key West Chamber of Commerce PAC is touting, along with a website named after the phrase.

Benson, a playwright whose brother Will Benson is a flats fishing guide, shook it off with a smile before launching into his brief speech.

The ballot question isn’t just about a study, Benson promised, quoting the Corps of Engineers’ website that says such a study is one progressive step in a formula that results in dredging.

“It’s not a study on whether it’s a good idea, it’s a study on how to go about dredging the channel in a national marine sanctuary,” said Benson.

He politely addressed Reef Relief’s neutral stance on the Oct. 1 question.

“This is an environmental issue, as far as Reef Relief is concerned,” Benson said. “We say, stand up against dredging. This is not a political issue.”

Hulse, who contends that the ballot question is about Key West’s economic future and not a debate over environmental protection, veered from her usual stump speech to stand up for local businesses.

“This label that if you’re in favor of business you’re against the environment is a complete falsehood,” said Hulse, who introduced herself as an attorney who is also a diver, a sailor and a fisher. “I enjoy the reef as much as anyone. It’s why I live here. I imagine it’s why most of you live here.”

Hulse noted the long list of Key West businesses that support Reef Relief through donations and said cruise ship passengers bring at least $87 million a year to the local economy from their spending along the Duval Street commercial corridor. She also disputed Benson’s argument that the ballot question goes far beyond a study.

“No dredging will result from this referendum,” Hulse said. “Of course the city will make that decision. This is a very strategic process we have to go through to even consider the possibility.”

The Quirolos’ statement asks Key West to be content with its “thriving hotel, tourism and real estate industry,” and says the “hordes of cruise ship visitors denigrates the downtown section to the exclusive benefit of a few businesses.”

Then, she asks on behalf of her husband and herself for the city to vote ‘No’ come Oct. 1.