1,000 Healthy Corals Displaced as Dredging Continues Around Miami Port

Jun 09, 2014 07:58 AM EDT | Matt Mercuro

Around 1,000 healthy corals have been displaced as dredging projects continue around the port of Miami.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the dredging project is 35 percent complete and will most likely finish no later than July 2015.

Researchers seeking more time to save an underwater field of coral in a Miami channel were denied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on June 6.

"Taxpayers would be paying $50,000 to $100,000 a day to keep that dredge on standby and that's not happening," said Susan Jackson, a corps spokeswoman, according to Reuters.

The channel is being deepened to 50 feet in hopes of attracting the larger cargo shops expected to pass through the expanded Panama Canal once it's completed.

Researchers started daily dives to collect coral in and around the dredge site on May 26 after Illinois-based dredging contractor Great Lakes Dredge & Dock finished relocating approximately 900 more mature corals to an artificial reef as required by the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We've been able to remove more than 2,000 corals in less than two weeks and if we had another two weeks we'd get thousands more," said Colin Foord, a marine biologist and co-founder of Miami-based Coral Morphologic, which is part marine biology lab and part art and music studio, according to Reuters.

Though dredging work resumed over the weekend, scientists said environmental studies underestimated the kinds and number of corals living near the channel.

"We now have another set of eyes in the water looking at what's down there and we want to be sure what was required in the permit was done," said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of the Biscayne Bay Waterkeepers, according to Reuters.

The Biscayne Bay Waterkeepers unsuccessfully sued the state in 2011 in hopes of stopping the $150 million project.

Coral is a stationary animal that slowly grows on seafloors over tens and even hundreds of years.

The University of Miami researchers believe that the corals living in waters just south of Miami Beach could offer clues as to how the world's disappearing coral can survive in changing oceans.

"The corals in the disturbed environments are the most pre-adapted and might be the most valuable in terms of saving them," said Andrew Baker, a marine biology professor at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, according to Reuters.

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