By Liangy Fernandez-Calli and Mary Benton
In recent days, our beautiful Biscayne Bay has been marred by scenes straight out of an apocalyptic movie with thousands of dead fish washing ashore from North Miami to Virginia Key. After multiple water samples and abiotic samples were collected and independently examined by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Miami Department of Environmental Resources Management, Florida International University, and Miami Waterkeeper, it was determined that the cause lies in a lack of dissolved oxygen (DO) due in part to warm temperatures, coupled with sewage leaks, septic tanks, pet waste, stormwater runoff, pesticides and nutrients found in fertilizers which feed algae that depress oxygen levels.
Unfortunately, this is not new. For decades, environmentalists have been sounding the alarm to deaf ears. It is a real problem that has been worsening with time due to lack of awareness, lack of leadership and failure to actively participate in better practices. In other words, it is on us to save our beloved Biscayne Bay and the other waterways around South Florida.
All is not lost. We have an opportunity to help restore and conserve our Biscayne Bay and our surroundings altogether. In some cases, it is a matter of simply changing our habits. In others, we need to change our mindsets.
Pet and Human Waste
Let's start with the easiest habit to change: pick up after your pet. We know most of you already do so, since you likely would be persona non grata in your neighborhood if you didn't. But keeping your pet waste from getting washed into the bay is an additional reason to be a good citizen not only of your neighborhood, but of this planet.
Septic systems are another source of contamination for nearby waterways. The EPA has some good tips on how to deal with yours, from toilet to drainfield.
Miami Waterkeeper (MWK) is an organization whose mission is to defend, protect, and preserve South Florida’s watershed through citizen engagement and community action rooted in sound science and research. They work to ensure swimmable, drinkable, fishable water for all. There is compelling scientific evidence for the need for ordinances governing the use of fertilizers, including the following provisions:
- No phosphorus application
- No fertilizer applied during the summer rainy season
- 50% slow release Nitrogen
- 15 ft. setback from waterways and storm drains
Miami Dade County does not have such an ordinance, but there is no reason why you can't go ahead and follow these provisions on your own. Learn more about the problem and what you can do to be part of the solution.
You can make your very own environmentally-friendly fertilizer for free by composting your kitchen and garden scraps. Why is this important? When you toss your kitchen waste in the trash can, it ends up in a plastic bag that will never decompose that gets trucked to a landfill where the kitchen scraps will create methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is contributing to climate change and the global warming that is sickening bodies of water like Biscayne Bay. The same thing happens if your municipality requires you to bag your leaves, which make wonderful mulch that enriches your soil, conserves moisture, and suppresses weeds. By composting, you become part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem. You will be amazed at the rich soil that will result, that you can spread around on plants that can use a little fertilizer. Here is a link for more information on how to start composting from the EPA and information that runs the gamut from closed bins to pit composting to open bins, tumblers, piling, and vermicomposting from Fine Gardening.
Plant Native and Florida-Friendly