This is from Sept 3:
From the New York Times: Fears in Miami That Port Expansion Will Destroy Reefs
MIAMI — As Miami prepares to dredge its port to accommodate supersize freighters, environmentalists are making a last-ditch effort to protect threatened coral reefs and acres of sea grass that they say would be destroyed by the expansion.
The state’s Department of Environmental Protection is on the verge of granting a final permit to the Army Corps of Engineers, which will be free to conduct 600 days of blasting to widen and deepen the channel for the port of Miami, across from the southern part of Miami Beach.
“It won’t fare well for us, the bay, the coral reefs, the fish stocks and the sea grass,” said Laura Reynolds, the executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society.
“You can bring this all back to the economy,” Ms. Reynolds said. “People come here to fish, boat, sail, snorkel and dive and go to the beach.”
Florida has seen steep declines in coral in the last 25 years, and last year’s cold snap devastated the reefs closest to shore. Some of those lost 70 percent to 75 percent of their coral, said Diego Lirman, a University of Miami scientist who was part of a team that conducted a survey of the coral last year and published its findings in August.
Environmentalists also question whether the potential harm to Biscayne Bay, with its pristine waters and sea life, is too high a price for a port expansion that may not bring the economic windfall that is expected.
Shipping consultants say the port of Miami is in fierce competition with other Eastern ports — including Port Everglades, just an hour away in Fort Lauderdale — to receive the superfreighters that will sail through the Panama Canal in 2014 once it has been widened. South Florida, because of its location, is not likely to become a hub compared with cities farther north, like Savannah and Charleston, experts say.
“The prospect of Miami becoming a big hub, this is not going to happen,” said Asaf Ashar, a ports and shipping consultant. “Miami is the end of the peninsula. It’s difficult to get into it.”
But with ports around the country moving forward with dredging plans, cities do not want to be left behind. In Miami, the actual dredging is expected to begin next year.
State environmental officials said there were plans to mitigate the damage to coral, sea grass and the bay, some of which is part of a state preserve. About seven acres of coral is expected to be directly affected by the blasts, and the Army Corps of Engineers will be required to transplant much of it to a trough between two reefs.
All stony coral larger than about 4 inches will be chiseled out and moved to the trough. All soft coral greater than about 10 inches will also be transplanted. Elkhorn and staghorn coral, which are categorized as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, may be sent to a coral nursery, according to the plan.
At the same time, nearly eight acres of sea grass will be damaged during the expansion. To make up for that, the corps will seed 25 acres in a large underwater hole a bit farther north.
The state also temporarily increased the threshold of just how milky the water can get in the area of the dredging — another concern for environmentalists — but officials said the silt and sediment plume would largely be contained, in part by underwater curtains.
“The damage is the minimum amount necessary to do the project,” said Mark Thomasson, the director for the water resource management division at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which issues the permits. “That’s the directive we were given to do this project.”
Once abundant and diverse, the coral in Florida and the Caribbean has gradually declined. Last winter, as ocean temperatures dipped into the 60s, some coral species on near-shore reefs were killed off altogether.
“One-hundred-year-old corals were wiped out within a week,” said Mr. Lirman of the University of Miami. “These were the jewels of the Florida reef tract.”
One particular kind of coral, the elkhorn, which helps build and stabilize reefs, has been almost wiped out over the last 25 years because of storms, disease and warming ocean temperatures, which end up bleaching coral.
A new study by two biologists found that bacteria from human fecal waste had played a major role in choking elkhorn coral. For years, human waste from the Florida Keys seeped, or in some cases poured, into the ocean via septic tanks and pipes. The sewage system is now being upgraded.
“There were a couple of acres of this coral, and now there is enough to cover your desk,” said Ken Nedimyer, president of the nonprofit Coral Restoration Foundation in the Florida Keys, which grows and restores coral through an underwater nursery.
In the last five years, scientists and environmentalists have worked to bolster and rebuild reefs in the area. The University of Miami operates one of a network of four nurseries that are growing elkhorn and other kinds of coral to transplant to reefs along South Florida’s coast. The university also runs a coral reef research facility that investigates what makes coral sick and what makes it healthy.
“We can turn a chunk into a hundred chunks in a year or two,” Mr. Nedimyer said of elkhorn coral.
Last month, Biscayne National Park managers proposed ambitious plans to further protect the area’s marine life by creating a 16-square-mile reserve that would put large tracts of reef off limits to lobster hunters and fishing enthusiasts. The plan would call for new no-motor zones for boats and areas where speed must be reduced.
For environmentalists, the concern with the corps’ mitigation plans is that some coral will be missed, that the transplanted coral and sea grass may not survive and that muddied waters from the dredging and hundreds of blasts will do long-term damage to the bay.
“You will have tremendous stress to the reef system for a project that may not even have any economic justification,” said Blanca Mesa, a volunteer for the Sierra Club Miami. “Biscayne Bay is actually a crystal-clear bay. It’s that way because we have acres and acres of sea grass beds filtering silt and sand out. It’s part of the beauty. It’s a shallow tropical lagoon that was never contemplated as a deep-dredge port.”