Deep Dredge Silt Is Killing Our Coral After All, Admit State Inspectors
For years, Deep Dredge proponents have promised that the $220 million project wouldn't kill off Biscayne Bay wildlife. Coral would be removed from harm's way, they claimed, and water quality would be closely monitored.
FDEP DEP divers examine coral crushed by improperly placed dredge waste.
Like the massive dredge barges themselves, however, those promises appear to be full of crap.
State inspectors released a study Monday showing that silt from the dredge has already killed many corals and had "profound" and "long-lasting" ecological effects on Biscayne Bay.
The report appears to confirm environmentalists' worst nightmares.
In 2011, a coalition of activists filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers, the government agency overseeing the project. The environmentalists argued that not enough was being done to protect Biscayne Bay wildlife from years of dredging and underwater dynamiting.
"Once we inflict enormous environmental damage on the bay, we can't go back," local boat captain Dan Kipnis said at the time. "This could be a permanent setback to the bay as we know it."
Kipnis and others weren't able to stop the dredge, of course, but they were able to obtain more money for mitigation and greater monitoring.
Last month, however, Kipnis and his coalition (which includes marine biologist Colin Foord, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, and the Tropical Audubon Society) filed a formal notice of their intent to sue the corps and its contractor once again -- this time for improperly monitoring the dredge and for damaging the bay with its dirty plumes.
DEP Palythoa caribaeorum, a normally robust coral, can be seen dying under dredge silt.
They provided New Times with evidence that silt from the Deep Dredge had spread across Biscayne Bay, burying coral under a deadly layer of dirt, sand, and bacteria.
The day the group filed its motion, the dredge ships disappeared from Biscayne Bay. The corps claimed that its main ship was struck by lightning and that the stoppage has nothing to do with damage from the dredge.
Either way, Florida's Department of Environmental Protection used the pause in dredging to investigate. This Monday, they sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers outlining numerous violations.
Silt from the dredge had spread far beyond the confines of the project. In some locations -- including at least one artificial reef -- corals were buried beneath up to 14 centimeters of dredge detritus.
DEP A colony of Colpophyllia natans. The silt has killed the coral, turning blackish purple.
Even corals that weren't buried were at risk because of how dirty the water had become from the dredge.
"During this diving inspection, significant impacts to hardbottom beyond those that were permitted were observed," the letter said.
In the accompanying report, photos show the damage already done by the dredge: corals broken by boulders errantly dropped by dredge ships; corals covered in bacteria or buried under silt; once-vibrant ecosystems now reduced to rubble.