A sea wall won’t save Miami, but these innovations just might


Miami is all in regards to the water and residing life open air. Strolling paths and parks line massive stretches of downtown waterfront with a stunning bay view.

This downtown core is the place the Military Corps of Engineers plans to construct a $6 billion sea wall, 20 toes excessive in locations, by way of downtown neighborhoods and proper between the Brickell district’s high-rises and the bay.

There’s no query that town is at rising danger of flooding as sea stage rises and storms intensify with local weather change. A hurricane as highly effective as 1992’s Andrew or 2017’s Irma making a direct hit on Miami would devastate the city.

However the sea wall the Army Corps is proposing—defending solely six miles of downtown and the monetary district from a storm surge—can’t save Miami and Dade County. A lot of the metropolis can be exterior the wall, unprotected; the wall will nonetheless lure water inside; and the Corps hasn’t intently studied what the development of a high sea wall would do to water quality. On the similar time, it will block the water views that town’s financial system thrives on.


A lot of Miami is constructed proper as much as the water’s edge. On common, it’s six toes above sea stage. [Photo: Ryan Parker/Unsplash]

To guard extra of the area with out shedding Miami’s vibrant character, there are methods to pair the energy of less-obtrusive hardened infrastructure with nature-based “inexperienced” options. With our colleagues on the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and the College of Engineering, we have been designing and testing progressive hybrid options.

Pure storm administration

Residing with water at the moment doesn’t look the identical because it did 50 years in the past, and even 20 years in the past. Components of Miami now repeatedly see “sunny day” flooding throughout excessive tides. Salt water infiltrates basements and high-rise parking garages, and tidal flooding is forecast to occur more frequently as sea level rises. When storms come by way of, the storm surge provides to that already excessive water.

Hurricanes are much less frequent than tidal flooding, but their destructive potential is greater, and that’s what the Military Corps is targeted on with its sea wall plan.

If Miami Seaside have been an undeveloped barrier island, and if thick mangrove forests have been nonetheless frequent alongside the South Florida shoreline, the Miami space would have extra pure safety in opposition to storm surge and wave motion. But most of these residing buffers are lengthy gone.

There are nonetheless methods nature may also help protect the fantastic thing about Miami’s marine playground, although.


Coral reefs like these in Biscayne Nationwide Park have struggled with warming waters. [Photo: NPS/Flickr]

For instance, healthy coral reefs break waves, dissipating their power earlier than the waves attain shore. Dense mangrove forests additionally dissipate wave power with their advanced root techniques that rise above the water line, dramatically reducing the waves’ impact. In areas the place coastal flooding is an rising downside, low-lying communities may be relocated to higher ground and the vacant land become wetlands, canals, or parks which can be designed to handle storm surge flooding.

Every space of shoreline is exclusive and requires completely different protecting measures based mostly on the dynamics of how the water flows out and in. Given Miami’s restricted area, residing shorelines alone won’t be enough in opposition to a serious hurricane, but there are highly effective methods to pair them with strong “grey” infrastructure which can be extra profitable than both alone.

Hybrid options combine inexperienced and grey

No one desires to take a look at a cement breakwater offshore. But if you happen to’re a breakwater that’s lined with corals and hospitable to marine life—and you’ll exit and swim on it—that’s completely different.

Corals assist the construction dissipate wave power higher, and on the similar time they enhance water high quality, habitat, recreation, tourism, and high quality of life. For lots of people, these are a few of Miami’s principal promoting factors.

By pairing corals and mangroves with a extra sustainable and eco-friendly exhausting infrastructure, hybrid options may be far much less obtrusive than a tall sea wall.

For instance, a cement-based breakwater construction submerged offshore with coral transplants may present habitat for total ecosystems whereas providing protection. We’re working with town of Miami Seaside by way of the University of Miami Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge to implement three hybrid coral reefs just offshore that we are going to monitor for his or her engineering and ecological efficiency.

Nearer to shore, we’re experimenting with a novel modular marine and estuarine system we name “Seahive.” Under the water line, water flows by way of hole hexagonal channels of concrete, shedding power. The highest may be crammed with soil to develop coastal vegetation similar to mangroves, offering much more safety in addition to an ecosystem that advantages the bay.

We’re at the moment engaged on testing Seahive as a inexperienced engineering various for North Bay Village, an inhabited island within the bay, and because the infrastructure of a newly developed marine park the place these “green-gray” reef and mangrove designs can be showcased.

What about the remainder of Miami?

The Military Corps of Engineers’ draft plan—a ultimate model is anticipated within the fall—would give nature-based options little function past a reasonably small mangrove and seagrass restoration project to the south. The Corps decided that pure options alone would require an excessive amount of area and wouldn’t be as efficient as exhausting infrastructure in a worst-case state of affairs.

As an alternative, the Military Corps’s plan focuses on the six-mile sea wall, flood gates, and elevating or strengthening buildings. It principally protects the downtown infrastructure but leaves everybody else on their very own.


Sea partitions and flood gates can even have an effect on water circulation and hurt water high quality. The Corps’s personal documents warn that the sea partitions and gates will have an effect on wildlife and ecosystems, together with everlasting lack of protecting corals, mangroves, and seagrass beds.

Mangrove roots rising above the water assist break up the power of waves on the shoreline. [Photo: Unsplash]

We want to see a plan for all of Miami-Dade County that considers the worth that inexperienced and hybrid options convey for marine life, tourism, fishing, and normal high quality of life, along with their protecting providers for the shoreline.

Each sorts—inexperienced and grey—would take time to construct out, significantly if the sea wall plan have been challenged in court docket. And each run a danger of failure. Corals can die in a warmth wave, and a storm can injury mangroves; but storms can even undermine engineered options, just like the New Orleans levee system throughout Hurricane Katrina. To assist construct resilience, our colleagues on the College of Miami have been breeding corals to be extra immune to local weather change, investigating novel cementitious supplies and noncorrosive reinforcements and creating new designs for coastal structures.

Miami sooner or later

Miami can be completely different within the coming many years, and the modifications are already beginning.

Excessive floor is at a premium, and that’s displaying up in actual property selections which can be pushing lower-income residents out and into less-safe areas. Anyone trying again at Miami will in all probability assume the area ought to have finished a greater job of managing development and perhaps even managing some form of retreat from threatened areas.

We don’t wish to see Miami turn into Venice or a metropolis walled off from the water. We expect Miami can thrive by making use of the native ecosystem with novel inexperienced engineering options and an structure that adapts.

Landolf Rhode-Barbarigos is an assistant professor of civil, architectural, and environmental engineering on the University of Miami, and Brian Haus is a professor of ocean sciences on the University of Miami.

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