Joyryde / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Things are looking pretty grim on Biscayne Bay. Images of dead fish floating in what should be lush and biodiverse habitat harken back to a time just a few short years ago when extreme drought triggered seagrass die-offs, harmful algal blooms, and fish kills on Florida Bay. The sources and solutions differ slightly, but both estuaries are a part of the Greater Everglades, which are ultimately impacted by water quality, quantity, timing, and distribution. The current devastation on Biscayne Bay is a cautionary tale for all who call Florida Bay home, and a reminder of how quickly things can turn for the worst.

There have been signs of steep decline on Biscayne Bay for years. The same could be said of Florida Bay leading up to 2015. The lack of political will and inaction on behalf of Florida Bay prevented the solution to hypersalinity in the dry season, implementation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, to take hold. What could have been 15 years of progress instead catalyzed the die-off of more than 40,000 acres of seagrass on Florida Bay. The multibillion dollar fishery that supports our tourism and water-based economy in the Florida Keys was severely compromised in the midst of “restoration.”

The tide has turned since then. Residents of Monroe County spoke up and engaged with managers and elected officials to advocate for a healthy and thriving Florida Bay. Unrest over the many issues facing Florida’s waterways grew across the state and our representatives listened. Legislation was passed expediting the lagging restoration projects and full funding allocations have been the rule rather than the exception since the activation of Keys residents and Floridians across the state for the future of our waters.

The past few dry seasons have been kind to Florida Bay. With a seemingly healthy estuary in our backyard, it can be easy to assume that all is well in the world of fixing America’s Everglades. Yet, the threat of collapse on Florida Bay is imminent.  The stakeholders and special interests that benefit from not sending water south (the same ones who worked to delay Everglades restoration) still exist and would love nothing more than for our citizenry to stop talking about Florida Bay.

Pay attention to Florida Bay. Stay informed. Hold managers and elected officials accountable. Vote. Otherwise, the future of Florida Bay will mirror the grim situation a few short miles away on Biscayne Bay. That is a risk no Monroe County resident should be willing to take.

Emma Haydocy
Executive director
Florida Bay Forever

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