A classic David and Goliath story is unfolding at the north end of a 300 mile long coral reef that stretches from the Florida Keys to the posh digs of Palm Beach. A group of scuba divers is trying to protect the coral that grows in the shadow of the multimillion dollar estates of Donald Trump, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Buffet and Rush Limbaugh, to mention just a few. The Town of Palm Beach, one of the wealthiest communities in the US, opposes the coral protections.
At first glance the group of divers may appear to be hopelessly outmatched. But, the divers, organized as the non-profit Palm Beach County Reef Rescue, have beaten the odds before. In 2006, they pressured the iconic seaside resort town of Delray Beach to stop dumping 14 million gallons-a-day of partially treated sewage onto the reefs. Delray Beach laid out 17 million to upgrade their sewer plant and finally cutoff the flow to the ocean in April 2009. In 2007, Reef Rescue took on the City of Lake Worth and successfully prevented them from getting a permit to discharge 4 million gallons-a-day of wastewater onto the reefs. A move that forces Lake Worth’s 15 million dollar treatment plant to sit idle while the town tries to figures out where to dispose of their wastewater. In 2008, Reef Rescue took their cause to Tallahassee; the result? Legislation that requires all South Florida municipalities to stop using the ocean for sewage disposal. The price tag could be a half a billion dollars.
So what’s the problem in Palm Beach?
In one word – SAND. The town is addicted to tax payer dollars that foot part of the bill for sand that is pumped from offshore sources onto the beaches that line the ocean front estates and condos. Yes Dorothy, your taxes from Kansas help pay for the sand projects. To complicate the issue, the State of Florida DEP determined the beaches are not eroded. Worse yet, the sand isn’t really sand, it more closely resembles silty/muck. So bad is the “sand” that in March 2009, Administrative Law Judge Robert Meale ruled to deny the Town of Palm Beach a permit to dredge 700,000 cu. yds. of poor quality sand onto the beaches saying “Because of the rare confluence of conditions required for its creation, the Florida Reef Tract cannot be replaced in any timeframe short of geologic time, so its protection, even from remote risks, must be a matter of exceptional regulatory concern.”
The concern over staghorn coral?
In March 2004, San Francisco based Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the federal government to list elkhorn and staghorn under the Endangered Species Act and to designate critical habitat. In March 2005, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) made a determination that both elkhorn and staghorn corals are likely to become in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range in the foreseeable future. In 2008, NMFS proposed establishing an area of critical habitat necessary for the survival of the species ranging in Florida from the Keys north to Palm Beach. The Town of Palm Beach objected, saying the protected area would interfere with the town’s beach renourishment projects. In November 2008, NMFS issued its final critical habitat designation, excluding the Town of Palm Beach.
Reef Rescue has challenged the final critical habitat boundaries by filing a formal petition asking the feds to revise the area to include the staghorn reefs off Palm Beach, as was originally proposed. Another objection has been issued by Palm Beach reiterating reef protection interferes with the town’s beach projects and the insignificant number of staghorn corals off their coast do not warrant habitat protection.
We’re not asking the Town of Palm Beach to stop their beach projects. We’re asking they be conducted in an environmentally responsible manner that ensures the endangered coral reef habitat off their shoreline is protected.
If you care more about coral reefs than dredging silt onto millionaire’s beaches, Reef Rescue is asking you to make your concerns known by writing the Town of Palm Beach and tell them what’s important to you and ask them to withdraw their objections to the critical habitat protections.
Palm Beach Daily News:
Palm Beach Post:
Imperiled coral enjoys renaissance – but Palm Beach, activists spar over protections
Reef Rescue Palm Beach staghorn coral video:
See our September 3rd post below for background on this subject.