As the state representative for the Florida Keys and South Miami-Dade County, there are few things more important to our well-being than the health of our unique marine environment. We are home to the Everglades, the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world and the only living barrier reef in the continental United States. Since I took office, I have made it a priority to do everything I can to help raise awareness about our water issues in Tallahassee and we’ve made great progress in the last four years when it comes to improving water quality.
Despite this progress, there are still many stressors facing Florida’s oceans and ocean acidification (OA) is a particularly significant threat. Its impacts on our marine ecosystems are less visible so it has not been as widely discussed as other environmental threats, but that is starting to change, and I am excited to help bring further awareness to this issue. Side effects of acidification like decreases in coral reproduction, growth and calcification as well as slower shellfish growth mean that this is not an issue we can afford to ignore. Already, other fisheries across the country are seeing serious economic impacts from OA and if it continues unchecked, the impacts to Florida businesses and residents could be equally devastating.
I was first introduced to this issue by fellow lawmakers in Washington who have been aggressively researching OA after the Northwest lost 75% of their oyster larvae due to the increasing acidity levels. In the Florida Keys, our two biggest economic drivers are tourism and commercial/recreational fishing, so it is up to us to proactively start addressing the impacts of OA before our fisheries and tourism industries are adversely impacted. That’s why I was extremely excited to participate in a stakeholder workshop on this issue with the Ocean Conservancy and the University of Miami. The workshop provided an incredible opportunity for stakeholders on all sides of this issue to get together and discuss not just the science of OA but what policy decisions and approaches we can take moving forward to try and mitigate the risks to Florida’s oceans.
In order to move forward on this issue, we need to have a broad coalition of support and input and I believe that this workshop was a wonderful step in raising awareness and creating a framework for collaboration between stakeholders. Our waterways and reefs are our lifeblood. It is that collaboration and coordination among different groups that will help us drive this issue forward at the state level, find meaningful ways to combat the effects of ocean acidification, and protect the many industries that depend on a healthy marine environment.