County Removes Styrofoam Docks From Biscayne Bay, Says It Will Change Policies

Miami Beach environmentalist Dave Doebler says he doesn't think most people know how bad Styrofoam really is for the ocean. He says he sees people using temporary, floating docks made from bare styrofoam "all the time." Most folks quickly pull the docks from the water the minute he tells them the docks quickly break apart in the water and release plastic beads into the ocean for decades.

"Nobody sees it until they actually look over the bridge and look down or get in the water," Doebler says.

So he says he's glad to hear that Miami-Dade County's Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW) quickly removed Styrofoam docks underneath the Venetian Causeway last week after Doebler published a video online showing the damage the docks were causing to the ocean. In the clip, Doebler zooms in on the docks to show tiny plastic pieces floating out into the ocean. He later told New Times that fish often try to eat the pellets.

DTPW spokesperson Karla Damian told New Times in a statement that a county contractor had used the docks during the county's ongoing efforts to repair the Venetian Causeway's East Bascule Bridge. Damian said her department spoke with its contractor and "required the contractor to immediately remove the Styrofoam dock because of the environmental concerns associated with the use of such material."

She added that on Monday, October 3, agents at the state Division of Environmental Resource Management (DERM) told the contractors to remove the Styrofoam "prior to Miami New Times contacting DTPW regarding the docks."

She then added that her department will change its policies to be sure new contractors know they can't simply throw Styrofoam into the water.

"In addition, DTPW will be reevaluating its contractual language and making modifications for future projects prohibiting the use of Styrofoam within or adjacent to bodies of water," she said.

Construction groups typically have two options when it comes to floating docks: They can use either "unencapsulated" docks, which drop Styrofoam right into the ocean, or "capsulated" docks, which wrap that Styrofoam in plastic or wood.

Yesterday, Doebler published new photos of the Venetian docks online: This time, he says he's happy to report that the county contractor, Kiewit Infrastructure South, is wrapping its old docks in wood to prevent pollution.

"I'm very pleased with the county’s response on this," Doebler says. After he raised his concerns with the county, "they were very quick to respond. Those things were out of the water in 24 hours."

This is far from Doebler's first battle against Styrofoam: Earlier this year, he published separate images online of unencapsulated docks melting into the water at a Miami Beach yachting event. After Doebler and his crew of environmentalists raised concerns, one vendor, Yachts Miami Beach, agreed to phase out all unencapsulated docks at a cost of more than $2 million.

He says his next fight will be to help pass a city- or countywide ban on unprotected docks. Miami Beach recently barred restaurants from serving food in Styrofoam containers — last week, Doebler said he found it strange that you can't sell Styrofoam in the city but you can just throw gigantic docks made from the substance right into the ocean.

"Within the city of Miami Beach — and we're trying to do this in Dade County — we're trying to pass regulations requiring that any foam used  in construction and temporary boating docks be encapsulated," Doebler says. He says these docks were just the tip of a gigantic, plastic-bead iceberg and that without a countywide ban in place, Styrofoam chunks will continue turning up in the ocean and along the beach.

"Boaters use these crappy foam docks for people who clean their boats," he says. "Whenever there’s construction along the water, people use these yellow construction booms. Many of them are degraded, with exposed foam, and big blocks end up sliding out and float around. I find them all the time, a lot more often than you might think."
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.