Mangroves Manhandled by a Yacht Show

The ecologically sensitive habitat is razed to make way for the luxury boats of the Miami International Boat Show.

The Miami International Boat Show in February 2015. (Photo: Seth Resnick/Getty Images)

Jul 1, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Miami officials have big plans for the 2016 international boat show, and not even environmentally critical mangrove forests could stand in the way.

Around 300 linear feet of mangrove forest has been leveled along the shoreline adjacent to Miami Marine Stadium, the venue for one of the largest and longest-running boat shows in the United States.

According to a county environmental inspector, a city contractor chopped down the trees in May to make way for extra docks to accommodate the 1,500 or so boats expected at the show next February. The protected trees, which shelter a plethora of wildlife, were cut down without a permit.

“I’m saddened and disappointed by the lack of responsibility,” Mayra Peña Lindsay, mayor of neighboring Key Biscayne, said in a video post. “I look around and I see what’s left of mangroves, and I also see hundreds of sea urchins and other marine animals that are part of the ecosystem strewn on the land.”

It’s the first time an event will be held at the historic waterside stadium, located on Florida’s Virginia Key, since the venue was shut down in 1992 because to damages sustained during Hurricane Andrew.

Since then, red and black mangrove trees have grown and flourished along the shore. Their tangle of roots stabilize nursery grounds for small fish and crustaceans, and their branches shelter many native bird species.

Red and black mangrove are among debris from shoreline cleared for land to be used for the 2016 Miami International Boat Show. (Photo: Reuters)

Now, with more than $16 million in backing from the city, the show, its boats, and more than 100,000 attendees plan to move from its regular location at the Miami Convention Center to the Virginia Key shoreline, home to seagrasses, mangroves, and endangered manatees.

The boat show’s producer, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which put up $3 million to move the show to the stadium, estimated that the event will generate $600 million in economic activity.

RELATED: Watch 300 Manatees Shut Down a Wildlife Park

“Boaters are some of the original conservationists,” Ellen Hopkins, spokeswoman for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, said in a statement.

According to the Miami Herald, environmentalists had already sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers—the government agency that permits boat shows in U.S. waterways—warning of potential violations of the federal Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.

Miami city officials said they’ll replant the trees and mitigate the damage, but that could take years—if the trees ever recover. If trimmed incorrectly, mangrove trees don’t grow back, and newly planted trees grow slowly.

“Mangrove restoration can be done,” Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeeper, told the Herald. “But it takes a long time for any kind of restoration to get close to approximating an ecosystem that was lost, if ever.”

So, Why Should You Care? Federal officials estimate Key Biscayne has lost more than 82 percent of its mangrove forests. Worldwide, 35 percent of mangroves are already gone, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. That means the fish and other marine life that depend on mangroves will decline as mangroves disappear.