Explore, Relax, and
Repeat: Biscayne Bay
Biscayne Bay is a special place where people like to have fun and enjoy the water. It's home to many amazing and unique animals, like manatees, parrot fish, and coral reefs! It's important for us to protect their habitats and keep the bay clean and safe, so they can continue to live and thrive for years to come.
As we submerged into Biscayne Bay water, we will learn about some of the issues the bay faces and some of the possible solutions to ensure it continues to be a source of life and livelihood for our states and our communities.
Saltwater intrusion is a situation where the ocean’s saltwater seeps into the freshwater channels underground where we pump out our drinking water (huge underwater pools called aquifers). Once the saltwater and freshwater mix, we can no longer use those aquifers!
How does saltwater intrusion happen?
Due to the high demand for fresh drinking water, there is a consistent overpumping of aquifers and there isn’t enough time for the channel’s reservoir of freshwater to naturally replenish. Giving the opportunity for saltwater from the ocean to seep into the underground channels.
Rising sea levels.
As the sea levels rise from global warming the pressure and shoreline erosion increases the issue of saltwater intrusion.
How does this impact us and Biscayne Bay?
Drinking water pollution.
The Biscayne Bay aquifer is the main source of drinking water for much of South Florida. If the saltwater intrusion persists, the amount of drinking water will decrease.
AND HABITAT LOSS
Biscayne Bay is home to a variety of ecosystems, like seagrass meadows and mangrove forests, which are important in supporting South Florida’s biodiversity. This includes endangered species, like the West Indian manatee and loggerhead sea turtle.
How do new buildings impact the Bay?
Biscayne Bay sits next to the highly developed coast of Florida, which poses risks to the health of its habitats. New buildings require cleared, flat land, which means the destruction and drainage of important coastal wetland ecosystems, which are not only home to many animals like fish and crabs, but also supply freshwater flow to the bay critical in maintaining the estuarine ecosystem healthy.
Developed areas produce an influx of nutrients which results in algal blooms and limited oxygen, both negatively impacting marine life. This is caused by both urban and agricultural runoff. New coastal developments lead to a loss of wildlife and critical habitat loss, like seagrass meadows. Animals like the manatee depend on seagrass meadows as their main source of food! A lack of oxygen also suffocates fish, and in the fish kill of August 2020, even dead stingrays washed ashore.
Is there anything being done?
Fortunately, there is an ongoing Biscayne Bay restoration program! Thanks to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers working alongside the South Florida Water Management District, a final component of the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Project was approved recently. This grants the building of a water pump
station around Cutler Bay. This pump station will supplement the oxygen-rich freshwater flow to Biscayne Bay, helping improve the water quality of these critical ecosystems.
What is water quality?
Water quality is the physical, chemical, and biological characteristic of water, which is very important for the environment’s health, but also ours! It
determines if it is safe for us to consume, but also to be near. The Clean Water Act was passed in 1974, and was the first legislation set up to protect our bodies of water. At the same time, the Safe Drinking Water Act was put in place to regulate the standards for our drinking water! Potable water refers to water that is safe to drink, while polluted water can have negative effects on both the environment and human health.
How is water quality determined?
Glad you asked! Laboratories are in charge of testing the quality of water, by looking at different parameters such as the temperature, the acidity, the
salinity, the presence of nutrients, and the presence of pathogens and bacteria. This is such an important step to make sure that our drinking water is up to standards and that we stay healthy!
What happens when wastewater is released into the environment?
Wastewater is the dirty water that comes from our homes and businesses. If it's released in the wrong way, it can cause big problems. One example is what happened to the beaches in Biscayne Bay in 2018 and 2019. They had to be closed the bay because the water had too many bacteria, making it unsafe for us to swim and play. Yikes!
But that's not all. When wastewater gets into the water, it can cause something called eutrophication. It's a big word, but it means that there are too many nutrients in the water, like a super-sized meal for plants and algae. They start growing like crazy and form a thick layer on the surface, blocking sunlight from reaching other plants and animals below. This can make it hard for them to survive and disrupt the balance of the whole ecosystem.