Researchers works to bring Biscayne Bay back from brink

At the southern end of Biscayne Bay, FIU Institute of Environment researcher Piero Gardinali is slicing through the water.

A triathlete, Gardinali is used to seeing kayakers and jet skiers zip by him on the surface as he swims toward the Miami Seaquarium. On the shore, sunbathers relax and others play catch with their dogs.

Beneath the water, seagrasses sway as if dancing to a beat. Fish, stingrays and even lobsters wander by.

But the usually serene bay that serves as a playground for locals and tourists alike would begin sending warning signs about its own health.

In August of 2020, hundreds of barracuda, eels, lobsters, pufferfish, toadfish, rays and snook in the northern bay died on a single night, their rotting carcasses bobbing on the water’s surface and creating a stench detectable for miles. An algal bloom quickly followed and white foam accumulated on the water’s surface, both indications of underlying concerns. 

PULLING BACK FROM DISASTER

The FIU Institute of Environment quickly took action, deploying automated surface vessels, buoys and researchers who collected water samples. In the days that followed, they monitored the bay for clues about what had happened, though many suspected a long-simmering problem a century in the making.

Few other organizations could match the institute’s efforts to determine what was taking place on the bay. Designated a Program of Distinction in Environmental Resilience by the state of Florida and falling within FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education, the institute has focused heavily on monitoring of coastal waters.

“If we don’t attack this right away, if we don’t put all of our best thinking, all of our best management, best practices in terms of infrastructure, revitalization,” said Todd Crowl, director of the institute, “this will become a common event, and that’s not a term I ever want to hear about Biscayne Bay.”

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