Biscayne Bay

The threat that puts a natural and economic engine at risk

Just like practically anywhere else along the coast, population growth in southern Florida, along with extensive construction and mass tourism, has triggered adverse effects on water quality. Biscayne Bay is now confronting significant environmental consequences as it finds itself surrounded by new and modern neighborhoods that have attracted an uncontrollable wave of real estate, tourism, and commercial investment.

“The ecosystem has a problem, and we won’t know if there’s a point of no return,” stated Henry Brice√Īo, a professor at the Florida International University’s Environmental Institute (FIU for short), who has been monitoring the situation for over 20 years.

Biscayne has been undergoing a silent yet perilous deterioration. And this time, there’s no time to lose because the situation is dire.

With a coastline of 221 square miles, the waters of the bay have been filling with decay over the last decades, without a coordinated effort to prevent the pollution problem and the disappearance of up to 90% of its seagrass in some areas.

This seagrass that lies on the bay’s bottom was responsible for providing food and shelter for smaller fish, maintaining water quality by filtering pollutants and absorbing excess nutrients that seep in. But without seagrass, there’s no marine life. Essentially. “The natural process of photosynthesis halts, harmful sediments stay on the water’s surface, preventing light passage, and as a result, the fauna doesn’t develop,” explains Brice√Īo.

The most desolate and tragic face of the bay was seen in 2020 when over 26,000 fish suffocated due to lack of oxygen in the water, as determined by the scientists who studied the event. Since then, Miami-Dade County and the surrounding municipalities have been trying, some more quickly than others, to catch up with what they should have protected decades ago: a valuable natural resource and a significant economic driver.

The crisis has mobilized various sectors to embark on a race to halt the deterioration of the aquatic bed, to eliminate the high level of contamination caused by septic tanks, fertilizers, plastics, and to renew the corroded sewage system, which has leaks and lacks the capacity to connect properties that were built without considering the environmental damage.

Sharing its coastline with the urban area of Greater Miami, the bay hosts a wide range of businesses including cruise lines, recreational and fishing activities, water sports, and a significant luxury real estate market. However, there are no recent data that quantify the environmental damage caused by massive constructions along that coast, nor the economic impact.

The last study about Biscayne was conducted in 2004 when the county hired the firm Hazen & Sawyer, estimating that activities around the bay generated $627 million in annual revenue, representing 10% of the county’s total income. But a lot of water has flowed since then, due to the area’s development.

Without a doubt, it’s a significant economy, with a running engine that faces major environmental challenges.

When Carolina Peralta purchased her property 10 years ago, the Edgewater neighborhood was resurging as a place for young middle-class people. At that time, Peralta didn't think about the real estate boom that now surrounds her; her motivation was to wake up every morning to the stunning view of Biscayne Bay.

But in 2020, when thousands of fish suddenly appeared dead in the waters and along the shores of the bay, Peralta thought the worst. Who caused this damage, how did they do it, and how would it directly affect her and her family?

"We moved seeking the bay view, we have a park in front of the building, and wonderful neighbors. But all these new towers and other buildings still under construction scare us a bit because we see terrible consequences in the environmental aspect," Peralta told HUELLA ZERO.

For those who rely on tourism, commerce, and fishing, what's happening in Biscayne Bay is worrisome. The water that gives life to marine fauna has been deteriorating, and lifelong fishermen like L√°zaro S√°nchez fear that the lost ground may not be recovered.

Due to excessive nutrients, fertilizers, human waste, and other chemicals dumped into the bay, species that were easily caught 15 years ago are disappearing.

In 1992, S√°nchez established his first fish stand on Watson Island, and his renowned restaurants Casablanca later emerged. He is a fifth-generation fisherman in his family, usually cruising the bay and is taken aback by the changes.

"30 years ago, you wouldn't see more than three boats per week passing by Elliot Key; now in a day, you can see up to 3,000 boats emitting gas, chemicals, garbage, and causing excessive pollution."


Every time it rains heavily, the house of a man we'll call David Alvarez (who preferred not to be identified for personal reasons) becomes surrounded by contaminants that emanate not from one, but from the two septic tanks he has in the backyard and the garden in front of his...


Efforts to restrict the use of fertilizers in Florida experienced a setback in 2023. In a move viewed with concern by some sectors, the state legislature approved the reduction of power from local governments in their battle to protect water quality, prohibiting them from creating new regulations limiting the use...



For the past five years, since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the environmental damages in Biscayne were so severe that they would soon become irreversible, making it impossible to restore the bay to its original state, some initiatives emerged.
However, the reality is that much time has been lost. “The process of Biscayne Bay’s recovery should have begun at least 20 years ago, and now we need to move much faster,” says Irela Bague.
These serious and complex problems will require a lot of money, consistent government policies, and a community-focused approach for restoration to be effective and long-lasting.
The county claims to be accelerating the pace on some of the recommendations it has received, but both Mayor Cava and the Bay Protection Director insist that cities like Miami must do more and feel the pressure demanded by the issue.
Some environmental scholars we spoke to fear that everything might remain in good-faith attempts, progressing too slowly, or that projects might end up shelved. “We’re in a situation that ecological experts call a ‘critical point,’ where the water is not so dangerous for consumption or recreation, but it wouldn’t take much for it to become hazardous,” stated Todd Crowl, the director of the Environmental Institute at FIU.
“A major flood that could have a catastrophic effect or a significant failure of the sewage system could bring the worst,” hopefully the community and the authorities would understand.
For now, the County is preparing a study on the social, economic, and environmental impact on the bay. For the first time, the most recent data on the value of properties located on the coast and their real estate impact will be included. According to the Mayor, “People and governments must understand that having up-to-date figures and data will show us the cost of losing this natural resource because the death of fish and algae decreases our tourism, fishing, real estate value, degrades health and quality of life.”
Fishermen like L√°zaro S√°nchez, whose restaurants operate along the Miami River and Biscayne Bay, believe that solutions exist, but they require both funding and significant political will. “Why aren’t there fish in the bay? It’s simple: ideas like creating nurseries for small fish or, for instance, constructing pumping systems with large pipes to channel fresh water from the sea into the bay, are not being implemented here.”
In 2020, when 26,000 fish died in Biscayne due to oxygen depletion, pumps were used to refresh Biscayne’s water, but it was a temporary solution. S√°nchez envisions building permanent pumping stations as an alternative, allowing clean water to enter and pushing out the dirty, carrying away the decay and algae that accumulate in the bay.
“But why don’t they do it? Do they not want to invest money in this and fail to understand that this will be the future? People must realize that the issue of pollution and the constant influx of people and boats to South Florida is irreparable. The solution lies in improving water conditions.”


Biscayne Bay is one of our most cherished natural resources, and Miami-Dade County has partnered with The Miami Foundation on the special “Protect Biscayne Bay” license plate.

Take a small action to show your love for Biscayne Bay.


Johani Ponce
Editor in Chief
Carlos Zegarra
Managing Editor
Erika Carrillo
Investigative Journalist
Randy García
Photography and Video

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