The canary in the coal mine once served as a natural warning system in a bygone industrial era. Now, for Florida at least, maybe it ought to be the octopus in the parking garage.
Photos of an octopus splayed out in a flooded Miami Beach parking garage have been floating around the internet all week, prompting some skeptics to call “bogus” on both the discovery of the eight-legged creature out of its element and the force blamed for its appearance — climate change.
Both appear to be all too real. University of Miami associate biology professor Kathleen Sullivan Sealey examined the photos and identified the octopus as likely one of two species common in South Florida waters. And she said Miami Beach residents ought to get used to seeing strange new creatures making sporadic appearances as rising sea levels push ocean waters deeper and more frequently onto land, along with some of the creatures that live in them.
Richard Conlin, who lives at Mirador 1000 West, posted video of water spurting through his parking garage drains and photos of the octopus on Monday morning, during the latest king tide — a seasonal phenomenon exacerbated this month by a super moon. He did not respond to requests for comment, but he wrote on the Facebook post that he saw schools of fish alongside the slimy creature.
Sealey believes the fish explain why the native octopus, which she thinks is a small Caribbean reef octopus or a large Atlantic pygmy octopus, ended up in someone’s parking space.
When the drainage pipes in these buildings were designed, they were safely above the high-water marks, she said, but rising seas mean the pipes are now partially submerged during extreme high tides. And with water comes sea life, starting with fish. A drainage pipe combines two of an octopus’ favorite things, Sealey said — a meal and a cramped, dark space to crawl into. The ocean dweller was likely curled up inside the drain when the king tide forced it out and onto the garage floor, she said.
“When that much sea water comes in the octopus is like ‘what’s this?’ and goes to explore and ends up in a bad place,” she said.
The sea creature, Conlin said, did make it back home when building security put the octopus in a bucket of saltwater and dropped it in the ocean.
On his post, Conlin noted the flooding in his building has worsened since the city raised a nearby road.
“This flooding to this extreme is new and gets worse each moon,” he wrote. “In the past the floor of the garage would be ‘damp’ but this extreme flooding is new.... in the past 6 months there has not been a single day without some type of water seepage in the garage.”
And it’s not just in Conlin’s building. Last year, a UM study found that tidal flooding in Miami Beach has increased 400 percent since 2006.
City officials have said that as roads are raised, private properties that drain into the street might no longer be able to do so. Regulations prohibit such drainage anyway, but the city is working on a program that would allow private properties to pay a fee and connect into the street’s drainage system.
Still, with even conservative estimates showing sea level will rise three feet by 2100, low-lying communities will likely have to learn how to take on some water.
“The sea is moving in, so we have to share the space,” Sealey said.
Miami Herald staff writer Joey Flechas contributed to this report.