Marine Stadium Redevelopment Would Kill Threatened Sea Life, Opponents Argue

Every year in South Beach, the Miami International Boat Show brings huge, Basel-esque crowds to gape at fleets of luxury yachts. This morning, though, county commissioners will decide whether to let the show flee to Virginia Key. It's all part of an ambitious plan to renovate Miami Marine Stadium, a long-neglected graffiti-covered icon on the bay.

But serious concerns have marred the plan to add hundreds of boat slips outside the stadium, including the lack of a public vote and worries over traffic on Key Biscayne. Most heated of all is an argument over whether the construction would kill threatened wildlife.   

Boat show officials insist that the renovations wouldn't harm any creatures despite being just across the water from a protected critical wildlife area. They point to a survey from the Army Corps of Engineers and a recent study they commissioned that found mostly "silty sand" in the area.  (The Boat Show's CEO, Cathy Rick-Joule, didn't respond to a message from New Times to comment on this piece.)

Au contraire, say opponents. The Army Corps of Engineers, after all, made identical claims about the deep dredge in Government Cut and ended up wrecking hundreds of threatened corals. 

And now, they're circulating a video by Colin Foord — the co-founder of Coral Morphologic and arguably the loudest voice exposing the damage done by the deep dredge. Foord dove in the waters outside of Marine Stadium earlier this year to film a video that shows vibrant sea life in the water, including corals, sea anemones, sea grasses and stingrays.

He says the video should put to rest claims by the boat show that there's no significant wildlife around that would be harmed by a plan to bring 830 new docking slips and hundreds of new boats for up to three months at a time.

"It is my professional opinion that the addition of new infrastructure inside and adjacent to the Miami Marine Stadium basin will have a negative impact on marine life," Foord writes in a report about his video. "The (area) is currently home to a variety of state and federally protected and important species such as manatees, sea grasses, stony corals, queen conch, and spotted eagle rays. The addition of hundreds of dock pilings throughout the basin will increase turbidity levels and degrade the seagrass habitat."  

The ecosystem outside Marine Stadium has already been disrupted by the deep dredge across the bay at Watson Island, Foord says. Silt and debris from that project have clouded the water outside Virginia Key. The new project could be a tipping point, he argues. 

"Any new construction in the Miami Marine Stadium basin should ensure that any stony corals or other protected benthic species are transplanted properly to an artificial reef to ensure their continued survival," he writes.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink