As a coral reef scientist, I dove intensively at PortMiami in June 2014 as part of a rescue operation to save corals from the dredge. The Army Corps of Engineers report cited in the Feb. 2 article, Corps says disease, not dredging, hurt PortMiami coral, fails to mention that dredging sediment had already smothered and killed most of the corals months before disease hit the area.
By late summer 2014 numerous independent agencies — NOAA, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and DERM — reported that corals were buried by up to 6 inches of dredging-related sediment “mud.” Disease didn’t began to hit South Florida’s reefs until that fall.
Dredging sediment killed many thousands of corals — perhaps hundreds of thousands. Many of these corals, large enough to be reproductively mature, represented a population of particularly robust corals that might have helped others in the region survive future stress through interbreeding.
The destruction of this critical habitat for new corals has reduced or eliminated these reefs’ ability to rebound.
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Without recognizing what was lost, why, and how it could have been prevented, similar dredge operations such as those under consideration for congressional approval in Port Everglades will mistakenly look to Miami as an example of how to dredge in an area with endangered corals.
One way to avoid future mistakes is to ensure that the environmental consultants who determine whether dredging is causing damage are not chosen by the Army Corps or its contractors. Such an arrangement sets up a clear conflict of interest and leads to reports that completely contradict reports by independent state and federal agencies charged with protecting the environment.
Our coral reefs deserve better.
Andrew Baker, associate professor, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami