Oakland Park scuba diver Kim Porter plans to lead a mock funeral march on Jan. 5 through the town of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea to protest what she believes is the imminent destruction of a near-shore coral reef in the name of beach restoration.
In the meantime, Porter is asking fellow divers to help document before-and-after conditions on reefs from Pompano Beach south to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea with photos and video since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began spreading 115,000 cubic yards of sand on adjacent beaches several weeks ago.
“We’re going to have the grim reaper and play a funeral march to mourn the loss of the reef,” Porter said. “I don’t know that we have any hope of stopping it.”
She said the 3 p.m. march will begin at El Prado Park and wind up at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Town Hall. The small town is one of the most popular beach diving destinations in Southeast Florida, with shallow coral reefs only a short swim from shore.
Porter and others such as Dan Clark — founder of the Coral Springs-based, nonprofit group Cry of the Water — are upset at the quality of the sand being used, contending that it’s too fine and will wash out over coral reefs and smother them. Clark put a sand sample from Pompano Beach in a vial of clean water and said it stayed muddy for hours.
“It’s just not good for coral reef habitats,” Clark said.
Corps project manager Cynthia Perez responded that it is a much-needed band-aid to replace sand washed away by Superstorm Sandy over a year ago and thereby protect roads and buildings from future storm damage.
“The most important benefit of this project is storm protection,” Perez said. “It also provides shore bird and turtle nesting habitat. An incidental benefit is recreation— supporting the local economy for tourism. As long as the weather cooperates with us, we are confident it will stay there for a period of time. The period of time depends on weather.”
Perez’s Corps colleague, biologist Terri Jordan-Sellers said the new sand is being trucked in from a mine in Ortona near Lake Okeechobee and that it is denser than the native sand found on Broward County beaches. She said it’s also much higher quality than dredged sand from borrow pits offshore.
“It significantly exceeds state standards,” Jordan-Sellers said. “Would they rather I take sand from offshore between two reefs?”
But Clark and others remain unconvinced, and Clark said his concerns are heightened because a much larger beach re-nourishment proposed by Broward County for next year would use the same Ortona sand. That $45 million project would spread up to 750,000 cubic yards over 5 miles of beach and extend out into the ocean in some sections from south of Pompano Beach to Fort Lauderdale.
“They’re going to do beach re-nourishment, but they need to do it right,” Clark said.
Eric Myers, Broward County’s chief of beach re-nourishment, said he’s OK with the quality of the new sand.
“This is the best material we can find if we are going to build a beach,” Myers said. “We think it will have a decreased amount of turbidity and less of a propensity to go downhill. My goal is not to trash reefs. My goal is to have the minimum amount of adverse impacts and then mitigate natural resources.”