| Harmful Seagrass Bill Advances Over Concerns of Conservation Community
|SB 198, Water Resources Management (Sen. A. Rodriguez, R- Doral), would for the first time allow permits to destroy seagrass in state waters if those seagrasses were replaced in state waters elsewhere. The problem?
Seagrass restoration efforts in Florida have a history of being both expensive and complex, with few success stories.
A mitigation program like one described in SB 198 would make the destruction of seagrass permittable in Florida to a new, deleterious extent – all with little guarantee of lasting replacement through mitigation banks. It is imprudent to plant seagrass without fixing the underlying problems that are affecting seagrass meadows across the state, including: impaired water quality, reduced freshwater flows, turbidity, and prop scarring.
An additional danger in this legislation is that it might – again for the first time – open up a mechanism for healthy, undisturbed seagrass areas to be impacted by new channels and boat basins that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Water Management Districts have routinely denied permits for over the last 30 years.
The value of added conservation lands could be lost should the bills in their current forms pass, allowing mitigation banks on state submerged lands already protected from development by public ownership.
SB 198 was approved by the Environment and Natural Resources Committee by a vote of 3 yeas, 2 nays on January 18, 2022. Its House companion, filed by Rep. Sirois (R-Merritt Island), passed its first committee of reference on December 6, 2021, and is now referenced to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee.
Audubon Florida has offered suggestions to the House sponsor to add guardrails to the bill to limit the potential harm. Our suggestions include limiting the scope of projects allowed for mitigation on submerged sovereign lands to be those that meet the public interest; updating the UMAM tool to make it applicable to assess loss and mitigation needs from seagrass loss; exclude motorboat traffic from mitigation areas to prevent harm; and be prescriptive with respect to all of the factors that need to be considered to develop and protective rule.