The Biscayne Times

Jun 20th
Our Disappearing Miami PDF Print E-mail
Written by Blanca Mesa, BT Contributor   
March 2018

Worsening stbigstock--190536838orms, more floods, and no retreat possible

Matheson Hammock is one of those iconic Miami parks that brings together the sublime beauty of Biscayne Bay with a backdrop of the downtown skyline. It’s a place for Sunday picnics and sunset strolls, site of portraits for brides and quinceañeras, etched into the collective memory of generations. And it is fast disappearing.

This “Heritage Park” -- Miami-Dade County’s first public park -- may also be the first to disappear as climate change takes its toll. Part of the park is already off-limits where the road is so filled with potholes, it’s impassable, the result of years of seawater flooding made worse by higher king tides and stronger storms.

Hurricane Irma was the latest blow, flooding the offices built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, destroying the park office in the historic coral rock building, and devastating the upscale Red Fish Grill, which has closed.

Park managers at the disintegrating park hope the roads will eventually be raised and rebuilt, even as the floodwaters grow higher each year. During king tides, signs are posted, warning that the roads flood. Meanwhile, the views of Biscayne Bay remain, serene and still at low tide, with wading birds foraging on the exposed sandy bay bottom, a sight to be enjoyed perhaps by just one more generation.

This is Miami on climate change, on a slow, steady creep toward full inundation, acknowledged only by scientists.

It’s not that Miami’s in absolute denial. It’s in bargaining mode, borrowing hope from the idea of building resilience, still allowing itself the luxury of planning, as if the sea were not already claiming the land.

At a recent CLEO Institute (Climate Leadership Engagement Opportunities) training for “climate communicators,” a solution-oriented approach was taken, with talk of moving to electric cars, solar roofs, and tree plantings. This is hope talking.

On the other hand, there was the report prepared by Hal Wanless, chair of the University of Miami Geology Department, titled The Coming Reality of Sea Level Rise: Too Fast Too Soon. It documents what Miami is facing, that projections of sea level rise have accelerated. There will be more water and less time to prepare for it.

The new NOAA projections of eight feet by 2100 mean Miami could see two feet of sea level rise by 2048 and three feet by 2063. At two to three feet, almost all the world’s barrier islands become uninhabitable -- we’re looking at you, Miami Beach, Virginia Key, Key Biscayne. Flooding of the world’s deltas and low-lying coastal zones is assured. Most existing infrastructure is threatened -- from water supply and sewage to roads and bridges.

Miami is singled out for the peculiar challenge of having no place to retreat to, writes author Ashley Dawson in his new book, Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change. The flatness of the land and underlying limestone, and Miami’s location wedged between the ocean and the low-lying Everglades, make it one of the world’s most flood-imperiled cities.

Dawson suggests that transition planning start now to assure a functioning economy capable of scaling down without collapse. In fact, Dawson dedicates an entire chapter to the “jargon” of resilience, which he considers a dangerous diversion.

Resilience plans that suggest sea walls or mitigation measures are the answer to climate change enable development in places that are fundamentally unsustainable -- wetlands or barrier islands, for example. This increases the future risk by providing a false sense of security.

Relocation is inevitable, Wanless warns. And the time to prepare is now. He urges the community to “refocus on realistic plans to maintain community stability during relocation and environmental quality during inundation.”

An orderly and responsible evacuation avoids the unintended consequences of climate chaos to the marine environment, for example. Pollution from inundated waste disposal sites (coastal landfills like the one abandoned on Virginia Key), polluted grounds on industrial sites, and from inundated buildings and infrastructure pose the greatest risk to the marine environment.

“It is critical that cleaning the land occurs prior to inundation so that our children and future generations have a clean, shallow marine environment to recreate and obtain food,” Wanless states.

Key West plans to elevate roads, and Miami Beach is installing powerful pumps and higher sea walls. But Wanless is adamant that these will make no difference in South Florida because “the limestone and sand substrate is much too porous and permeable.”

And even if they did, it won’t be the gradual rise in sea level that drives us out. It will be the relentless and powerful storms of the future.

“It is likely this increasing risk and damage from storm surges that will encourage us to move on,” he concludes.


Blanca Mesa writes about the environment, health, and urban development issues. Follow her @blancamesa and subscribe to her blog at


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