March for the Bay aims to preserve local water, end massive fish kills (includes video story)

Activists, local and state representatives, and concerned residents took to the streets of North Bay Village this past weekend to call for more action to protect and preserve Biscayne Bay.

In the last few weeks, thousands of dead fish have washed ashore and algae blooms have been spotted from North Bay Village to Virginia Key. Scientists, based on water samples, believe that low dissolved levels of oxygen and high temperatures caused the event.

“This is an unprecedented fish kill and the result of excessive pollution directly caused by things like sewage leaks, septic effluent, stormwater and fertilizer runoff,” said Jessica Dennis from Miami Water Keeper, a nonprofit that advocates for South Florida’s watershed and wildlife.

Recently, Miami Water Keeper coordinated emergency measures to deploy stormwater pumps and fireboats to aerate the water. 

“Data from FIU scientists showed that these “life support” measures did have a positive oxygenation effect on the water, but in order to have a Bay that sustains life long-term, we have to curb nutrient pollution before it enters our waterways,” said Dennis.

Because of this, scientists and environmental advocates are urging local and state governments to pay close attention to the deadly effects of pollutants and nutrients entering the bay.

“Scientists have been warning that the bay is at a “tipping point” from being a seagrass-dominated bay to becoming an algae-dominated bay,” Dennis added.  “What we’re seeing right now is a sign that we’re pushing past that tipping point toward a point of no return for the health of the Bay.”

Saturday’s event, “March for the Bay,” organized by the City of North Bay Village, began with a march from a parking lot on the 79th Street Causeway to North Bay Village’s Vogel Park. A community clean-up followed. Its purpose was “taking a stand to save the Bay,” a flyer read.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, U.S. Congresswoman Donna Shalala, state rep. Michael Grieco, and state senator Jason Pizzo were present, along with members of the North Bay Village Commission and members from the Miami-Dade County Commission. Irela Bague, chair of the Biscayne Bay Task Force, also attended the event.  

“This is an awareness-raising event for our Bay,” said Bret Latham, the North Bay Village mayor. “It’s time to build awareness and act to turn this around. This isn’t something we can fix as three small islands in the middle of the Bay. We need everyone to come together and work together to fix this, and today is a step towards doing that.”

At the local level, North Bay Village has passed legislation to ban single-use plastic and put in place a fertilizer ordinance controlling which types people can use and when. The village also created a resiliency and sustainability task force and is reworking the planning code to make the city more environmentally friendly, Latham said.

State Rep. Michael Grieco urged everyone, not just North Bay Village, to recognize the environmental issues affecting Biscayne Bay.

“Until you provide visuals for people about what’s going on in the environment, it’s very abstract; It’s hard for people to wrap their heads around it day-to-day,” he said. “We want to be able to enjoy our waterways, and if we don’t have the ability to have clean water and a healthy ecosystem, then what’s the point? There are ways to help.”

North Bay Village resident Ariel Vibes started a petition to support action from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

“Our fish are dying and our children are in danger,” Vibes said. “I’m desperately worried about the community.”

Alejandra Garcia Elcoro is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Media and Journalism at Florida International University. With her passion and dedication, she will report vital stories that will leave an impact on her community.

Nicole Forero, originally from Cali, Colombia, currently majors in journalism with a minor in Social Media & E-Marketing Analytics. She’s interested in photojournalism and aspires to become a feature writer.

Shane Brown is a digital communication and media major with a strong passion for multimedia production. His goal is to establish a successful career in TV and film production.