As the effects of climate change captures headlines all over the world, the MBVCA sat down with the City’s Environmental & Sustainability Division to discuss Miami Beach’s efforts to combat climate change as well as the city’s many green and eco-friendly initiatives. See what they had to say and check out all of their programs here: http://web.miamibeachfl.gov/publicworks/environmental
• How would you best describe the unique mix of urban and natural beauty that exists in Miami Beach?
When our City was founded over 100 years ago, the western side of the island was protected with a dense mangrove forest and the Atlantic coast was covered with palmettos along a beach dune. As the City grew, the mangroves were cut down and filled to create land for development and the dune was converted into ocean front properties. Since then, we have learned about the value of these natural resources and their important role in our community. So, as we plan for the next 100 years, bringing back our natural resources is a critical component of our resiliency strategy.
Natural systems, such as dunes, mangroves, and coral reefs, protect our City against weather events and create habitat for plants, corals, fish, and birds. The vegetation in coastal dunes keeps beaches strong by gradually accumulating sand, minimizing erosion rates, and reducing the need for renourishment projects. The dunes also protect coastal infrastructure and properties from storm damage by blocking surge and absorbing wave energy.
Similarly, red mangrove forests have been found to have the highest carbon net productivity amongst all ecosystems and approximately 3 to 4 times more than temperate and tropical forests. A mangroves’ ability to provide a habitat for microorganisms contributes to the high amount of carbon it sequesters. In addition to reducing carbon in the atmosphere, mangroves protect the shoreline by adapting to changes in the water line and the elevation of the land. Therefore, shorelines that incorporate natural resources like mangroves are an important asset to climate adaptation and mitigation in coastal communities like ours.
As our city continues to develop, we will continue to explore options to promote the restoration and reintroduction of these habitats. After all, our beaches, waterways, and overall natural environment are what make our City so unique!
• How would you describe Miami Beach to visitors? What makes Miami Beach special to you?
The City of Miami Beach is a barrier island community located in southeast Florida between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The City has flourished by linking the urban environment to its natural capital including parks, natural and man-made waterways, sea grass beds, mangrove shorelines, sand dunes, and over seven miles of white, sandy beaches. The City’s beaches are a critical economic, recreational, environmental, storm protection, and erosion control asset for the City of Miami Beach, Miami-Dade County, and the State of Florida. Last year, they attracted approximately 7 million overnight visitors to Miami Beach which spent $11.4 billion. Additionally, the beaches are the first line of defense in protecting over $30 billion in taxable property value in Miami Beach against storm surge and sea level rise.
Miami Beach has approximately 70 miles of shoreline along numerous canals and waterways. The waters surrounding the City support a wide variety of flora and fauna. These waters also act as nurseries and habitat for migratory birds and for commercially and recreationally important fish. Furthermore, the City’s beaches support shorebird species and are a designated nesting habitat for the protected Loggerhead, Green and Leatherback sea turtles.
• Year after year, visitors flock to Miami Beach in massive numbers, how does the city educate and advocate to keep the city green while also promoting the growth of tourism?
The Miami Beach anti-litter campaign was developed to encourage people to keep Miami Beach clean through the lens of fitness. This City is not only known for its natural beauty but also its attractive and healthy individuals. Utilizing the platform of fitness, the campaign is geared towards making the disposal of trash a way of life and a way for everyone to explore the City, stay active, and make a difference. The campaign was created with a sense of flexibility to serve as a lead-way to teach people on how to properly recycle as well as incorporate the element of reusing. The City collaborates with local non-profits for beach clean-up, waterways clean-up and dune-restoration activities. The City has also promoted trees and balcony plants give-away, as well as workshops for residents regarding composting, rain-barrels, energy and water savings, amongst others.
In addition, every turtle season, throughout the months of April to October, the City has educational campaigns for residents and visitors on how to improve the nesting conditions for marine turtles. The City also works closely with Miami-Dade County and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to provide support for the nesting conditions of marine turtles.
• Does the Environment and Sustainability Department work directly with hotels?
Our Director, Elizabeth Wheaton, is a member of the Sustainable Hospitality Council. Spearheaded by the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association, this group serves as a source to exchange ideas and promote sustainable practices within the hospitality industry. Additionally, the City is currently in the process of working with a local hotel on the development of a green alley. Green alleys can transform underutilized and neglected alleys into safe, attractive, and functional social spaces that foster community cohesion. This green initiative can help in reducing the use of alleys for illicit activities, creating a safe place for active recreation and pedestrian activity, and utilizing the public space for implementing community gatherings and events.
• Considered a “natural capital” can you share how Miami Beach protects its many vulnerable flora and fauna (i.e. sea turtles and beach cluster vine)?
The City of Miami Beach has a Dune Management Plan and a Dune Restoration and Enhancement Program to foster and maintain a healthy, stable, and natural dune system. The City manages the urban, man-made dune as close to a natural system as possible and ensures the dune provides storm protection, erosion control, and a biologically-rich habitat for local species. The dune restoration efforts includes the removal of non-native, invasive plant species such as Scaevola taccada and Casuarina equisetifolia; the replanting of cleared areas with native species; the selective trimming of native vegetation; the demolition of remaining wooden dune crossovers; the replacement of protective fencing adjacent to the dunes; and the installation of educational signage.
It is especially critical that the City limit pollutants from entering the environment due to its proximity to the City’s vast system of interconnected waterways and sensitive marine habitats. One pollutant of particular concern is expanded polystyrene, petroleum based by product which constitutes a large portion of the litter in the City’s streets public places and waterways. Expanded polystyrene is a particularly harmful pollutant because it is non-biodegradable and not readily recyclable, and fragments into smaller pieces that easily enter and remain in the environment, harming or killing marine life and other wildlife that accidentally ingest it. The City recently adopted a polystyrene ban where no food service provider or store shall sell, use, offer for sale or use, or provide food in expanded polystyrene food service articles including the sale or use of polystyrene ice chests and coolers, with few exceptions. The City is currently under the educational and written warning phase of the ban, but on September 16, 2016, the enforcement and penalty provisions of the ordinance with regard to all other expanded polystyrene food service articles (in addition to coolers and ice chests) will take effect.
In addition, the City is looking for opportunities to use natural or living shorelines as an alternative to traditional seawalls. Beyond structural stabilization, living shorelines enhance the waterfront revitalization and aesthetic value of the site; provide protection of surrounding riparian and intertidal environment, creation of habitat for aquatic and terrestrial species, and improvement of the water quality via filtration of upland run-off.
The City is also looking towards decreasing its GHG emissions and is finalizing its first GHG inventory. In order to reduce the City’s GHG emissions as well as to design, build, and operate a new generation of efficient, environmentally responsible, healthy and resilient buildings, the City recently adopted a green building ordinance. Now the City requires LEED Gold certification or Living Building Challenge certification for all new constructions over 7,000 square feet or ground floor additions to existing structures that encompass over 10,000 square feet of additional floor area.
• Miami Beach is undergoing a vast array of environmental initiatives and projects right now; when will these be completed and how will they affect residents and visitors?
Miami Beach is taking a leadership role in establishing effective long and short terms solutions to address one of our world’s toughest challenges: preparing for the future uncertainties of our changing climate. Its geographic location and low-lying topography makes this coastal municipality inherently vulnerable to flooding, storm surge, and other environmental impacts. As part of its resiliency efforts, adaption and mitigation solutions have become critical.
Miami Beach is adapting to sea level rise by updating their existing gravity-based stormwater system with tidal control valves, pump stations, and other innovative drainage improvements. Pump stations and raising roads serve to keep streets dry by quickly expelling rainwater and elevated groundwater from urban areas. The City is also amending the Land Development and Zoning Codes to establish standard base flood elevation, higher minimum finish floor elevations, and minimum elevations for public and private seawalls.
Natural infrastructure is also a major component to Miami Beach’s adaption efforts. The City’s beach and dune system provide natural buffer to protect the City from storm surge and erosion, while also providing natural habitat for migratory birds and nesting sea turtles. The City is also developing a robust urban reforestation program to increase the City’s tree canopy, reduce heat island impact, capture stormwater and create a more walkable city.
About $430 million will be invested in capital improvements for the City’s stormwater management system for the next 5 years. Temporary construction can affect residents and visitors, however this improvements will preserve their quality of life, as well as provide a more resilient place for them to live and visit.