Biscayne Bay: A natural and economic engine on the brink of collapse

But in 2020, when thousands of fish suddenly appeared dead in the waters and on the shores of the bay, Peralta thought the worst. Who caused this damage, how did they do it, and how was it going to affect her and her family directly?

“We moved looking for the view of the bay, we have a park in front of the building and wonderful neighbors. But all these new towers and other buildings still under construction scare us a little because we see terrible consequences on environmental issues,” Peralta told HUELLA ZERO.

For those who make a living from tourism, commerce and fishing, what is happening in Biscayne Bay is worrying. The water that gives life to marine fauna has been deteriorating and lifelong fishermen like Lázaro Sánchez fear that the lost ground cannot be recovered.

Due to the excessive amount of nutrients, fertilizers, human waste and other chemicals dumped into the bay, species that were easily caught 15 years ago are disappearing.

In 1992, Sánchez established his first fish shop on Watson Island, and later his renowned Casablanca restaurants emerged. He is a fifth generation fisherman in his family, he often tours the bay and is shocked by the changes.

“30 years ago you didn’t see more than three boats a week passing through Elliot Key, now in one day you can see up to 3,000 boats expelling gas, chemicals, garbage and causing excessive pollution.”

Like virtually everywhere else on the coast, South Florida’s population growth, construction and mass tourism have triggered negative effects on water quality. And Biscayne Bay faces serious environmental consequences after being surrounded by new, modern neighborhoods that attracted an uncontrollable tide of real estate, tourism and commercial investment.

“The ecosystem has a problem and we will not know if there is a point of no return,” Henry Briceño, a professor at the Environmental Institute at Florida International University, FIU, told us, who has been monitoring what is happening for more than 20 years. happens.

Biscayne has been suffering a deterioration that is as silent as it is dangerous. And this time, there is no time to waste because the situation is serious.

With a coastline of 221 square miles, the waters of the bay have been filled with rot during the last decades, without there being a coordinated effort to avoid the pollution problem and the disappearance of up to 90% of its seagrass in some areas.

This grass that lies at the bottom of the bay was responsible for providing food and shelter for the smaller fish, maintaining water quality, filtering contaminants and absorbing excess nutrients that sneak in. But without grass, there is no marine life. Basically. “The natural process of photosynthesis stops, the harmful sediments remain on the surface of the water, they do not allow the passage of light and therefore fauna does not develop,” explains Briceño.

The most desolate and tragic face of the bay could be seen in 2020, when more than 26,000 fish suffocated due to lack of oxygen in the water, as determined by the scientists who studied the event. Since then, the Miami-Dade County and surrounding municipalities are trying, some faster than others, to catch up with what they should have protected decades ago: a valuable natural resource and a major economic driver.

The crisis has mobilized different sectors to begin a race to stop the detriment of the aquatic bed, to eliminate the high level of pollution caused by septic tanks, fertilizers, plastics and to renew the sewage system that is corroded and leaking. and has no ability to connect properties that were built without thought to environmental damage.

Sharing its coastline with the Greater Miami urban area, the bay is home to a wide range of businesses including cruise lines, fishing and recreational activities, water sports, and a significant luxury real estate market. But there are no recent data that quantify the environmental damage unleashed by the massive constructions on that coast, nor the economic impact. The last Study on Biscayne was done in 2004 when the county hired the firm Hazen & Sawyer, which estimated that activities around the bay generated income of $627 million annually and that value represented 10% of all income the county received. . But a lot of water has flowed since then, due to the development of the area.

Without a doubt, it is an important economy, with a running engine that faces major environmental challenges.


The proliferation of septic tanks in Miami-Dade has unleashed an environmental crisis in Biscayne Bay. Approximately 15% of properties use septic tanks in poor condition, resulting in pollution of coastal waters.


Excessive real estate development on the Biscayne coast has caused serious pollution problems and severe flooding in Miami. The massive construction of skyscrapers and overpopulation have collapsed the sewers and drainage system.


In 2023, a law was passed in Florida limiting local regulation of fertilizer use, raising concerns about its effects on water quality and the environment. Fertilizer producing companies lobbied to approve this law, citing economic losses.


Reducing plastic use is a crucial goal to build a more sustainable future in Miami. Both local governments and private companies are joining forces to promote recycling and eliminate the use of plastic. Through biodegradable products and the promotion of the reuse of containers, we seek to raise awareness and change the consumption habits of the community.


Since five years ago, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the environmental damage in Biscayne was so serious that it would soon be irreversible, making it impossible to restore the bay to its original state, some initiatives emerged.

But the reality is that a lot of time has been lost. “The recovery process of Biscayne Bay should have started at least 20 years ago and now we must move much faster,” says Irela Bagué.

These serious and complex problems will require big money, consistent government policies, and a community-based approach for restoration to be effective and long-lasting.

The county says it is accelerating its pace on some of the recommendations it has received, but both Mayor Cava and the Bay Protection Director insist that cities like Miami must do more and feel the pressure that the issue demands.

Some environmental scholars we spoke with fear that everything will remain just good faith attempts, that they will go too slowly, or that the projects will be shelved. “We are in a situation that ecological experts call ‘critical point’ where the water is not so dangerous for consumption or recreation, but it would not take much for it to become dangerous,” said the director of the Institute of the Environment at FIU, Todd Crowl.

“A very large flood that could have a catastrophic effect or a major failure of the sewage system would be enough to see the worst,” I wish the community and the authorities would understand.

The County is currently preparing a study on the social, economic and environmental impact on the bay. For the first time, the latest data on coastal property values ​​and real estate impact will be included. According to the mayor, “People and governments must understand that having updated figures and data will teach us what the cost of losing this natural resource would be because the death of fish and algae decreases our tourism, fishing, real estate value, degrades health and quality of life”.

Fishermen like Lázaro Sánchez, whose restaurants operate on the banks of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay, believe that there are solutions, but they need money and a lot of political will. “Why are there no fish in the bay? It’s simple, ideas like creating small fish hatcheries or, for example, building pumping systems with large pipes to pour fresh water from the sea into the bay are not implemented here.”

In 2020, when 26,000 fish died in Biscayne due to lack of oxygen, pumps were used that refreshed Biscayne’s water, but it was a temporary remedy. Sánchez sees as an alternative to build permanent pumping stations so that clean water enters and dirty water comes out again, pushing rot and algae that stagnate in the bay.

“But why don’t they do it, maybe they don’t want to spend the money on it and don’t they understand that this is going to be the future? People need to understand that the issue of pollution and the volume of people and boats that are constantly moving to South Florida cannot be fixed. The fix is ​​to improve the water conditions.”


Biscayne Bay is one of our most precious natural resources, and Miami-Dade County has partnered with The Miami Foundation on the special “Protect Biscayne Bay” plaque.

Proceeds from specialty license plate sales will go to the Miami Foundation and will be used for Biscayne Bay restoration and education efforts. Three thousand license plate coupons must be sold for the special “Protect Biscayne Bay” license plate to enter circulation statewide and be available at all tag agencies.

Take a small action to show your love for Biscayne Bay and get your pre-sale coupon today.