Rachel Silverstein is a Miami girl leading the city’s environmental movement. Rachel is concerned that our unique landscapes always seem to lose out to other interests and is determined to preserve Miami’s watershed through citizen engagement and community action.
After graduating from the Ph.D. program at University of Miami Rosenstiel School, where I studied coral reefs, and then completing a fellowship on the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, I felt a pull to return to Miami to advocate for the wild areas I had studied. Miami’s environmental movement was atrophied, and our fragile, unique landscape always seemed to be losing out to other interests. I felt that, with my science background and newly-minted policy experience, I could make a difference. (Also, Miami is one of the only cities in the U.S. with coral reefs!) Because Miami’s environmental community is still small, I have had the chance to become a leader here in ways that, perhaps, would have been impossible elsewhere. Miami faces both challenges and our opportunities: In the next six years, all of our County Commission seats will be turned over; we will have a new mayor; a new Governor; and, due to redistricting, we will have an unprecedented number of seats up for grabs in Congress. It will be my job to ensure that the men and women tasked with protecting our natural resources understand the extent of the problems we face. It will be my job to make sure that these future leaders choose responsible growth and responsible development as the only means of protecting our city’s future.
WHAT IS THE MOST PRESSING ISSUE TO SOLVE ON YOUR LIST? WHY?
Our City. Our Water. It’s Miami Waterkeeper’s tagline. My tagline. Our issues shape Miami’s future and, perhaps, its very existence. Here’s the rub: Miami’s economy depends for its survival on agriculture, real estate, and tourism—all of which rely to a great extent on the availability of clean water. And yet, every time it rains, billions of gallons of sewage spill into our once-pristine Bay. We are home to the only coral reef tract in the continental United States, but we’ve lost 80% of it in the last 40 years. We have more to lose than any other city from sea level rise, but many of our leaders still don’t acknowledge its existence. As a community, we’ve invested everything in the water resources that support our city, but, because of a lack of awareness and unsustainable choices, we risk throwing it all away.
HOW CAN WE SOLVE IT?
Miami Waterkeeper’s mission is to protect South Florida’s watershed through citizen engagement and community action, ensuring swimmable, drinkable, fishable water for all. As a Miami-based 501(c)(3), we are dedicated to protecting Biscayne Bay and the surrounding waters. Through our work, we hope to ensure a clean and vibrant South Florida watershed and coastal culture for generations to come. We use education and community outreach, scientific research, and legal advocacy to achieve 1) protected marine ecosystems and habitats, 2) sea level rise resiliency, and 3) clean and safe waterways.
My leadership roles have evolved in the last few years, from a scientist diving and studying Miami’s reefs, to a Senate staffer working on legislation to protect the reefs, to a Waterkeeper using our laws and public awareness to save those reefs from destruction. A Waterkeeper is an advocate for a watershed, serving full-time to implement responsible water use, and part-time as scientist, educator, spokesperson, legal advisor, political strategist, community organizer, fundraiser, and the public face of both a movement and a mission.