NOAA Warns of "Rapid Deterioration" of Endangered Corals Due to Deep Dredge Sludge

A month ago, state regulators raised the alarm over silt from the Deep Dredge killing Miami corals. Now the feds are stepping in as well.

According to documents obtained by New Times, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has issued a scathing set of recommendations for saving endangered coral threatened by the dredge project.

"There is clearly sediment impact affecting coral colonies, including [endangered species] Acropora cervicornis and possibly newly-listed corals, in the project area," the report says. "There is also evidence of additional background warm temperature stress in the region. Both these factors are contributing to rapid deterioration in colony condition in the project area."

See also: Deep Dredge Silt Is Killing Our Coral After All, Admit State Inspectors

NOAA spokeswoman Connie Barclay said she could not speak about the document, which appears to be an internal agency report from ongoing negotiations with the Army Corps of Engineers over dredge permits.

The report does more than raise concerns about coral death due to the Deep Dredge, however. It also contains recommendations on how to save endangered species, such as rare staghorn corals.

"Accumulation and resuspension of sediments in the project area will continue to affect extant colonies and designated critical habitat as long as the sediments are present," the report says. "Therefore, emergency relocation of living staghorn colonies should be undertaken immediately and further mitigation (e.g., translocation of additional coral species, CH mitigation) considered."

The NOAA report also recommends rescuing "any other species of corals that appear to be salvageable" and transferring them to a coral nursery.

Barclay said she couldn't discuss specific NOAA concerns about the Deep Dredge, but the report appears to be an indication that complaints by local scientists and environmentalists have gained some traction.

"We are always concerned about endangered species or marine animals and how they are going to be impacted by certain activities," she added. "That's our job. That's what we are supposed to do."

The report comes as a small but significant boost for local environmentalists and scientists, who have been warning for years that the Deep Dredge will destroy local marine wildlife.

Port of Miami officials, on the other hand, insist that it will create jobs, boost the economy, and can be carried out responsibly without permanently damaging the local environment.

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.

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