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US' Only Barrier Reef Severely Damaged by Million Dollar Miami Port Dredging Project

May 03, 2016 12:55 PM EDT
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University Of Miami Studies Climate Change Effects On Coral Reef
Philip Kushlan, Ph.D. candidate, works on brushing algae from a piece of staghorn coral that is in a holding tank, he is part of a team researching how multiple climate stressors will impact coral reef in the future at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science on April 22, 2016 in Miami, Florida.
(Photo : Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A few weeks ago, media reported the massive coral bleaching that has almost wiped out the entire Great Barrier Reef in Australia. With 93% of individual reefs affected, the wreckage is flagrant. Unfortunately, Australia's mass coral bleaching is just one example of a far bigger problem that these marine environments are facing.

The world is witnessing the biggest coral destruction of history in different places. Miles away from Australia is Miami which houses the United State's only barrier reef. Last year, the $205 million Deep Dredge project at Port Miami was concluded, yet environmentalists continue to fight for the damage that the project has done to Florida's reef.

To accommodate the newest generation of freighters, a large-scale dredging of Miami's port was done, allowing massive ships sail through an expanded Panama Canal to bring cargo to Miami. By estimate, the expansion could pump about $7 billion into the region, Miami Herald noted.

New York Times recently reported that based on a new report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as much as 81% of the reef near the dredging site was already buried in sediment.

"In addition, an Army Corps of Engineers contractor report from August shows up to 93 percent partial coral death because of sediment, despite a plan by the Corps to minimize the damage," the report added.

Last year, American Fisheries Society said that the dredging meant to deepen the Port of Miami has damaged more coral than federal managers anticipated.

"Between February and June, the NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service sent a series of letters to the Army Corps of Engineers saying the dredge work damage "greatly exceeds" what was originally calculated," the report read.

According to Miami Herald, the corps originally intented to move only threatened species from the project area. After environmental groups sued, the corps agreed to transplant coral from 16.6 acres, but environmentalists were given short notice before dredging begun, resulting to less corals saved.

By the time the project was finished last year, 250 acres of animals had been smothered, including endangered staghorn coral.

Miami Waterkeeper and other environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the US Army Corps of Engineers for violating the Endangered Species Act by killing coral and injuring its critical habitat.

Rachel Silverstein, who earned her PhD at the University of Miami, describes the dredging effects as "rings of death."

"I feel like [the Army Corps] personally took something that belonged to me, almost like they came into my house and robbed it. Our community needs to understand that our waters and our reefs belong to all of us and that no [entity], whether it be the federal government or a private company, has a right to take it away," she told New Times.

In a separate study published in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles, researchers found that the damage is made worse by the extreme global warming - ocean temperatures that have dipped too low or risen too high, acidification, sewage and pollution.

The study said climate-related coral erosion, projected to start between 2050 and 2060, has already started near Miami.

The Florida reef brings more than $4 billion a year and also provides protection from hurricanes and flooding, yet the government has managed to reduce its beauty to just a fraction, whipping up large machines that cover batches of sea floor with sediments that fall on the corals and smother them to death.

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