Hope for corals pinned to dredging study bill
Florida coral reefs score a big win. Image via The Nature Conservancy South Florida.

Pulaski reef fields of staghorn corals at Dry Tortugas 6-21-18 27_Vivid_ful
'This is a commonsense bill for what is left of the 348 miles of coral reefs offshore Florida.'

Keeping an eye out for wildlife while dramatically disturbing their home may be easier said than done, but that’s not going to stop people trying.

HB 979, which cleared the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, would require deepwater dredging projects to include independent studies of the adverse impacts of the activity on the natural habitat. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would develop the protocols for the report.

“This is a commonsense bill for what is left of the 348 miles of coral reefs offshore Florida,” Highland Beach Republican Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman said. “Many dredging operations have slogged away in our waters for decades to transport sand to beaches, and clear and remove sand from our ports to deepen and widen them.

“Both operations maintain they contribute to tourism, commerce and fishing and diving industry, and this is true. However, diving also has its risks. During the Biscayne Bay-Miami dredging operation, a series of miscalculations and errors caused 560,000 coral to die off, due to covering them in sand, crushing them by falling rocks and boulders off of the barges, and the ensuing disease that followed.”

Dying coral has an effect up through the food chain, as creatures move away or die off.

The bill would also require advance notice to nearby municipalities.

“Florida boasts 825 miles of coastline which are home to ‘more than 30 plants and animals considered rare within the state that inhabit the beach and adjacent habitats,’ and millions of tourists visit the state each year to enjoy Florida’s beautiful beaches,” according to the House staff analysis.

“Recognizing the importance of Florida’s beaches, the Legislature created several programs to protect them and the Department of Environmental Protection administers those programs.”

DEP’s Beaches, Inlets and Ports Program reviews and processes applications for navigational dredging of deepwater ports through the Florida Environmental Resource Permit Program (ERP).

An amendment adopted at an earlier committee stop exempts the bill from applying to “existing ports with existing channels that have deepwater maintenance going on and are currently permitted or maintained by the U.S. (Army) Corps of Engineers.”

The exemption helps the ports to keep those channels free, open and well-maintained, and operations at those locations can continue unhalted.

“Many times, we hear of the potential for unintended consequences,” said Homestead Democratic Rep. Kevin Chambliss.

“When we hear that, sometimes we don’t slow down enough to actually make sure that we’re addressing that. But, I am confident in this particular bill sponsor. I know that she has an open mind, and she is someone who definitely does not have the intent of those unintended consequences.”

Next up for the bill is the House Infrastructure Strategies Committee.

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook: facebook.com/wes.wolfe


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