How Fertilizers are Impacting Miami’s Waterways

What city officials are doing to safeguard the health of Miami’s waters

When people fly into Miami, they are taken aback by the city’s lush streetscape and seemingly continuous tree cover. Cities are usually sights of impermeable concrete—but Miami offers a refreshing marriage of metropolis and greenery. Miami’s landscaping is beautiful, but it also poses potential harm to the region’s delicate ecosystem. The fertilizer that is used to incentivize growth in gardens, parks and street flora contains nutrients that have infiltrated Miami’s shallow soil, flushed into its many canals and spilled out in Biscayne Bay. These nutrients can cause tremendous harm. Phosphorus and nitrogen are some of the most common nutrients found in fertilizers and have both been linked to the decimation of coral reefs and the marine life that depend on those ecosystems.

The threat posed by excess fertilizer nutrients is now widely understood, and the City of Miami is taking action by moving forward with a fertilizer ordinance to limit the amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen that can be used within city limits. Through an education and outreach campaign, Miami’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability plans to help citizens and commercial landscaping companies make the transition and understand how their actions are helping safeguard the city’s water supply, economic livelihood and marine ecosystems.

This move by the City of Miami is crucial for the future of our ocean and the communities that depend on it. When nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen enter waterbodies, they feed naturally occurring algae that are an integral part of a marine ecosystem. Like all natural and artificial systems, balance is fundamental to their survival. Excess nutrients feed algae so much that they create harmful algal blooms. News reports of blue-green algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee showcase this exact dynamic. Once these harmful nutrients enter water bodies, they help normally harmless algae proliferate. Excess algae starve aquatic life of oxygen and sunlight, harming and even killing corals, mammals and fish.

On March 12, 2020, the fertilizer ordinance will move on to its second hearing before the City Commission and be well on its way to implementation by this summer. With support from industry and residents, Miami can make sure it’s taking the smart route to avoid expensive remediation projects in the future, promote healthy freshwater bodies and ensure a healthy and vibrant Biscayne Bay. I, for one, look forward to helping Miami work towards a bright and clean future and commend the city’s efforts in getting there.

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