Vero Beach, FL - Cable lines strung across Florida's southern coast are severely damaging coral reefs, according to a report released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).The report, written by an international review panel, details how fiber optic cables, used to connect central and Latin American phone and internet service with state residents, destroy the brittle reef structures as they swing back and forth underwater. This Wednesday, December 11, the State of Florida is slated to enact a plan that would increase the number of cables crossing reef structures.
Conducted during the summer of 2002, the new study is the first research documenting how fiber optic cables continue to damage reef structures long after their initial installation. The study, focusing on the state-regulated waters off Broward County, shows that boat anchor snags, wave surges, and coastal currents cause the cable lines to repeatedly batter the fragile structures.
Covering less than 1% of the planet's surface, coral reefs are the world's most biologically diverse marine ecosystems. Living among Florida's corals are sponges, crabs, turtles, lobsters and nearly 600 fish species. Because many coral reef organisms can tolerate only a narrow range of conditions, reef communities are highly sensitive to environmental or human-caused damages. Florida's coral reefs, which have taken between 5,000 and 7,000 years to develop, are rapidly diminishing from a variety of man-made sources, including offshore dredging, increased turbidity and global warming.
"The state's plan to install even more underwater cables lacks a realistic understanding of the damage already done," commented PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer, who noted that cable lines could be installed above the Oculina Bank, the northernmost point of Florida's coral reefs. "These ancient structures may be gone forever before Florida realizes the consequences of today's actions."
Meyer also noted that the state-owned underwater property is leased to fiber optic companies at cut-rate prices (Florida is one of only three coastal states that does not collect a fee based upon fair market value). Fiber optic cables can generate more than $5,000 per minute in profit to operators. Florida, however, treats fiber optic cable companies as if they were state-regulated public utilities even though the industry has long been deregulated with cable access awarded to the highest bidder.
"These rates are a sweetheart deal at the expense of Florida's taxpayers," concluded Meyer.
Governor Bush will announce the state's new plan on Wednesday, December 11, 2001, in the state Capitol building in Tallahassee, Room LL03 (Cabinet Meeting Room) after 9 am.
The PEER Coral Reef/Fiber Optical Cable Jury was formed in September, 2001 to assess the impact of carriage industry (primarily telecommunications) activity in and around environmentally-sensitive coral reefs between the south Broward County line and the Oculina Bank near Cape Canaveral. During the summer of 2002, the Jury performed 8 dives around areas of Florida reef near Dania Beach.
NOAA assessment of reef valuation http://www.marineeconomics.noaa.gov/Reefs/reeflit1.html