Noted oceanographer and filmmaker Philippe Cousteau has issued a dire warning against the multi-million dollar plan to expand Florida’s seaports, which could have a devastating effect on United States’ only barrier reef.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to widen and deepen shipping channels to allow more and bigger ships to access Port Everglades off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The $347 million project, before Congress for approval, would mean huge swaths of seabed ripped up starting next year.
Advocates of the massive project contend the new sea port will bring more jobs as well as larger ships to the state, but environmentalists are completely against it dubbing the dredging project as “lunacy.”
Cousteau, the grandson of the famous ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, documented the current state of the barrier reef earlier this week in order to draw attention to future dredging plans by the army corps.
"It would be a tragedy and — considering that there are probably staghorns there — literally a federal crime," the ocean explorer said.
Staghorn and elkhorn corals are listed as “threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and their numbers have declined in recent years by 98 percent.
Recent dredging of the port of Miami, also by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, encrusted as much as 5.5 inches of sediment on to the seabed nearby and clogged parts of the Florida reef. As a result, animals that inhabit the reefs are cut off from vital sunlight and food.
Corals also serve as buffers against storms and tsunamis and prevent maximum damage to the coastal regions.
Miami Waterkeeper, a nonprofit environmental conservation organization, is currently in a legal battle over the Miami dredging, which has left a thick, silt-laden seafloor. If they win the lawsuit, the ocean conservation group will force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to replant the estimated 250 acres of lost coral.
“These reefs are like the redwood of California, they belong to all of us and we should protect them,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of the group. “By piling sediment upon them, we could be pushing them to extinction. There is a possibility the reef system could disappear in our lifetimes.”