Remarkably, many South Florida residents and visitors find it difficult to gain access to Biscayne Bay. There are many reasons, among them, limited public areas and lack of parking, signs and information. Moreover, knowledge of the bay’s resources and challenges is not common, even among long-time South Floridians. Greater access and public awareness are essential keys to preserving a healthy Biscayne Bay for future generations.
Access to the bay provides opportunities for recreation and education, and these experiences help build a sense of community pride and stewardship of Biscayne Bay. Everyone, regardless of economic or social circumstances, deserves safe access and opportunities for responsible use of the bay. Yet public access should not harm the bay’s natural resources or reduce the value of the bay user experience. As more people use the bay, it is important to expand education and provide additional protection to sites of high environmental value through limits on types of use, timing or number of users, as well as improved enforcement to ensure compliance.
There is a great need for environmental education programs and activities specifically focused on Biscayne Bay and reaching community residents of all ages. Local schools’ environmental awareness programs are a good start, but also needed are additional hands-on teaching that brings students closer to the bay. Environmental educational programs should be geared to the many different audiences and cultures in our community. Information and signage should reflect the languages and cultures of the community to provide information useful to all. Finally, special effort needs to be given to educating community and neighborhood leaders so they can both understand the impacts of their decisions and help educate their constituents about the importance of the bay.
To encourage greater public access to the bay and community education about bay issues, the Biscayne Bay Partnership Initiative has recommended these actions:
* Sections of the Biscayne Bay and Miami River shoreline currently planned for intense development should include space for activities that are water-dependent or water-related with green areas that enhance habitat and public access.
* Public lands, causeways and public parks along Biscayne Bay should provide opportunities for public recreational and educational experiences, and should provide all people with safe access and opportunities for responsible use of the bay. Public access must be consistent with the need to protect the bay.
* A central clearinghouse should collect and disseminate available information about the bay.
* Biscayne Bay education efforts should encompass at least five groups: 1) primary, secondary and post-secondary students and educators; (2) the general public, with an emphasis on minority groups; (3) public officials; (4) direct users of the bay, with an emphasis on boaters; and (5) tourists.
* The Florida legislature should continue to provide funding for public education and outreach regarding the long-term health of the Biscayne Bay ecosystem and its importance for South Florida.