Eager students and elected officials in Miami are speaking up about the important but often misunderstood shallow waterscape that surrounds them. They connected with saltwater Biscayne Bay through two programs—“Day on the Bay,” and Junior Ambassadors—funded by the Biscayne Bay NOAA Habitat Focus Area. The first program provides current leaders with an immersion experience, and the second teaches advocacy skills to the next generation.
Leaders Cruise the Bay
Busy community leaders appreciated a field trip that helped them focus on important bay issues. On September 16, 2016, two mayors and more than a dozen other local leaders climbed aboard for a three-hour boat tour of Biscayne Bay, organized by nonprofit Miami Waterkeeper and Florida Sea Grant. They learned about geology, ecology, and current threats to the bay’s remarkably diverse ecosystems and species. They witnessed first-hand how dirty fresh water, flowing into the salty bay, acts like a fertilizer and causes algae to bloom and smother wildlife habitat.
Speakers explained ways that local homeowners can mitigate run-off and other threats by making small changes, such as planting natural shorelines. One attendee vowed to plant natives and stop fertilizing his lawn to decrease harmful nutrient runoff. After the “Day on the Bay,” 94 percent of participants reported their intention to apply new insights toward the conservation of Biscayne Bay.
Tomorrow’s Leaders Speak Up for Bay
With an eye to the younger crowd, Miami Waterkeeper selected seven environmental Junior Ambassadors last year from a competitive pool of 8th to 12th graders. Advised by six teacher-mentors, they pledged to engage and educate their peers about water quality and habitat issues in Biscayne Bay.
Junior Ambassadors learned leadership, public speaking, and environmental advocacy skills. The Ambassadors also participated in community-based and family outreach activities, such as clean-ups or restoration work in the bay’s watershed. For example, Junior Ambassadors have given speeches at elementary schools and have led outreach at a “Bioblitz” event, a citizen science effort to identify as many species as possible in a given area.
In 2017, the program recruited 15 new Junior Ambassadors. Three mandatory trainings and three outreach events, planned through May 2017, focus on threats to Biscayne Bay, civics, and community engagement. Elected officials will also be sharing their relevant leadership journeys.
Both Junior Ambassadors and the “Day on the Bay” programs have inspired nearly 40 leaders to conserve Biscayne Bay. Armed with new experiences, these leaders act like ripples on the water and spread awareness and better habits to Miami’s millions of visitors and residents.