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Bird Poop Just May Restore Seagrass Bed

Key Biscayne will have to restore some seagrass beds -- with the help of some visiting sea birds -- before it can add sand to its eroded beaches.

Key Biscayne leaders are working on a deal with Biscayne National Park to finish a seagrass restoration project -- an important precursor to the village's long awaited beach restoration.

Key Biscayne is eager to add 75,000 cubic yards of sand eight years after its last major beach renourishment project. To make things worse, Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita in 2004 and 2005 swept away a lot of sand and changed the beach-going experience for many locals.

``Key Biscayne without a beach is not Key Biscayne,'' said Vice Mayor Enrique Garcia, who has been spearheading the effort to restore the beaches. ``If you go at high tide to the Ocean Club or the Beach Club, the water is way up there.''

But adding new sand to the beaches -- Key Biscayne needs new sand every eight to 10 years -- is a long, complicated process that requires approval from several government agencies such as the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management.

And before Key Biscayne can get the permits to renourish its beaches -- from the southern end of Crandon Park to the northern edge of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park -- it needs to restore 1.33 acres of seagrass beds.

During the last beach renourishment project in 2002, the pipes that pumped sand to the beaches damaged the seagrass. It was not restored afterwards, said Village Manager Genaro ``Chip'' Iglesias.

To date, Key Biscayne has restored 1.01 acres of seagrass, said Anne McCarthy, a consultant from CSA International, who is working on the village's seagrass restoration project. ``It only has 0.32 acres to finish.''

Penny Cutt, of Coastal Systems International, who is the village's beach consultant, said: ``Seagrass is tremendously beneficial to the environment as it stabilizes the beach sediments as well as provides significant habitat functions and values.''

``The seagrasses must be restored to replace the lost functions and values of those seagrasses over time from when the impacts occurred to when the seagrasses grew back into the impacted area,'' Cutt said. ``Seagrass serves as a food source for marine fish, mammal, and invertebrate species and provides habitat for many species of fish and invertebrates.''

With nearby seagrass areas already mitigated, Key Biscayne is hoping to fulfill the rest of its obligations at Biscayne National Park east of Homestead.

Iglesias said he and others are currently working with the national park on drafting a memorandum of understanding, which the Village Council would need to approve.

The thinking is that Key Biscayne would do two things at the park: fill in holes with sand where there used to be seagrass, with the goal of inducing the growth of new seagrass; and installing bird stakes in the water in some areas of the park. The stakes would attract birds, who would perch there and poop in the water. The poop, in turn, would fertilize the land and encourage seagrass development.

Iglesias said once there is a memorandum of understanding in place between the village and Biscayne National Park, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection would give Key Biscayne a notice to proceed with beach restoration.

According to Cutt, Key Biscayne needs three permits -- one from the county, one from the the state and one from federal officials -- to add more sand to its beaches.

``We hope to have the permits by next fall so we can bid out the project to build it at the end of turtle nesting season, which is Oct. 31,'' Cutt said.

The village would bring in sand from an off-shore borrow area, she said.

Iglesias said it would cost nearly $3 million, and the money will come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and capital improvements plan funds, he added.

Vice Mayor Garcia said it is a top priority.

``We have to do something about it immediately. Otherwise, the first thing to suffer will be our property values,'' he said.