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Miami Herald

Miami Dade’s Sargassum Seaweed Challenge

The natural beauty of Miami-Dade County has long been a boon to our residents, visitors and collective quality of life. Our beaches are a gift from nature, and we enjoy time spent there with our family and friends.

As such, it is critical that we do everything in our power to ensure that our children, and their children, have this same opportunity. While it is easy for some to think of the consequences of pollution and sea-temperature rise as a far-off, intangible concept, the reality is that we are experiencing real consequences at this very moment.

If you’ve been to Miami Beach or any of our coastal areas lately, there is a good chance that you’ve encountered piles of Sargassum on our shores and in our waters. Sargassum is a free-floating seaweed that has generally emanated from the Sargasso Sea, which is located off the East Coast of the United States. Recently, however, Sargassum has begun to flourish off the coast of Brazil, where rollbacks of environmental protections and rising sea temperatures have created a breeding ground for this macroalgae. As Sargassum continues to grow, roughly doubling in weight every 18 days, it is caught in the Gulf Stream and makes its way to our beaches; this is what we are experiencing right now, and the end result is a build-up of a foul smelling and dangerous seaweed on our County’s beaches.

Aside from degrading the quality of our environment and negatively impacting residents, this issue will significantly impact Miami-Dade’s tourism industry if we fail to take action. The good news is that there are a number of feasible solutions at our disposal, but in order to effectively manage this issue and preserve our environment, Miami-Dade County cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach. Different strategies will be needed for different areas. We can always resort to collecting and disposing of the material, but for some coastal areas it may make sense to place a barrier of sorts that prevents Sargassum from accumulating near our shores. In other areas, perhaps blading will suffice and in fact some communities have turned to recycling strategies. With collection and disposal, frequency should be dictated by accumulated volume; it does not necessarily need to occur daily or along the entire coastline.

Thanks to the strong advocacy of Commissioner Eileen Higgins and at the urging of Miami Beach Commissioners, homeowner associations and residents, last week Mayor Carlos Gimenez took a significant step in the right direction by approving an emergency contract for the removal of Sargassum with an emphasis on certain hot spots. (The Mayor also requested an extended clean-up permit from the Governor.) This emergency measure will provide resources until the end of the current fiscal year (September 30) as the County identifies additional resources for fiscal 2019-20. While this is a positive development, it is absolutely critical that we formulate a long-term, comprehensive plan in order to deal with this issue on a permanent basis. Because we have no control over the root causes, it is up to us to do everything we can to preserve our beautiful ecosystem in the face of a serious challenge.

We can no longer separate environmental issues and economic issues, because in Miami-Dade County, these are one in the same. While the costs associated with managing our community’s Sargassum issue are high, the costs of doing nothing are significantly higher.

Alex Penelas served as a two-term Mayor of Miami-Dade County from 1996 to 2004. Alex’s career in public service began in 1987 when he was elected to the City Council of Hialeah before successfully running for a County Commission seat in 1990, becoming the youngest County Commissioner in history. During his eight years as mayor, Alex focused on implementing robust solutions for early education, public transportation, and homelessness. A proud father of three, Alex now lives in Miami Lakes with his wife, Lilliam and their youngest daughter, Alexandra. If you would like to reach out to Alex, feel free to do so through his personal email: Alex.Penelas18@gmail.com

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