VERO BEACH, Fla.--Underwater fiber optic cable corridors severely damage coral reefs, and actually hurt the cable lines themselves, according to a three-year study made public today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The study urges Governor Jeb Bush to adopt more rigorous rules protecting Florida's near-shore coral reefs from the growing peril of telecommunications industry development along the state's coastlines. Today Governor Bush is expected to announce a much weaker plan to regulate the cable lines.
The report is authored by a jury of experts, including marine biologists, economists and telecom industry specialists, who have been studying the Governor's management plan for placement of fiber optic cables from Broward County to the Bahamas since 2000. Last December the team released findings showing how the Governor's preferred plan, which would simply lay the cables on top of reefs, produces sustained environmental damage as undersea currents turn the cables into battering rams that shatter the fragile reefs as they rock back and forth.
The PEER jury's latest report recommends that the state instead bury cables under the reefs using bi-directional drilling. The recommended plan will not only be safer for the reefs, but will provide protection to the delicate fiber optic cables themselves from damage by anchors, dredging, fishing drag nets, and even intentional damage by terrorists. The costs to repair these damages are passed on to the public consumers of internet and telephone services.
Coral reefs are the world's most biologically diverse marine ecosystems. Florida's reefs are home to 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 reefs took thousands of years to develop," stated PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer. "The least we can do is take minor precautions to keep them around for the next generation."
State-owned underwater property is regularly leased to fiber optic companies at cut-rate prices, because Florida is one of only three coastal states that does not collect a fee based upon fair market value. While fiber optic cables can generate more than $5,000 per minute in profit to operators, the state treats them as if they were state-regulated public utilities even though the industry has long been deregulated with cable access awarded to the highest bidder.
"Legal protections for coral reef species are woefully inadequate," said Meyer, citing a legal and regulatory analysis also released by PEER. "Florida's leadership should at least look at available options before they green light development that will cause irreparable and unnecessary damage."