Environmental advocates in Florida say they’re heartbroken {that a} rich investor who as soon as supposed to save lots of a historic non-public island as a seabird protect now desires to promote it for improvement into “Miami’s most unique deal with”.

Hen Key, one in every of solely two pure islands in higher Biscayne Bay, was named by British surveyors in 1770 through the reign of George III for its ample wildlife, and has served as an unspoiled nesting sanctuary since then to scores of species of native birds, together with egrets, cormorants, herons and pelicans.

Now, proprietor Finlay Matheson, who purchased the four-acre island with a companion for $36,000 within the mid-Eighties, has supplied it on the market for $31.5m as “a golden alternative for a developer”.

Matheson stated he felt it was “about time” to promote Hen Key, and that he was “not involved in any respect” about what occurs to it, based on the Miami New Occasions, which first reported the itemizing.

“A really fortunate particular person might create Miami’s most unique deal with, as a result of this gem is zoned residential,” the island’s itemizing, with Miami realtor Audrey Ross, states.

In 2012, Matheson instructed the Miami Herald he had hoped the island can be “acquired by a authorities company or non-public group that will restore it and declare it a protected chicken sanctuary”.

Neither Matheson nor Rose responded to a request for remark.

A double-crested cormorant at Ponte Vedra Seashore, 5 hours north of Miami, on 8 March 2023. {Photograph}: Erik S Lesser/EPA

Chris Boykin, chief improvement officer of Miami Waterkeeper and a former government director of the close by Pelican Harbor seabird station, stated shedding Hen Key to improvement can be a tragedy.

“Proper now, it’s a pure island because it’s been for hundreds of years, and to see it become condos would simply be a blight on our neighborhood, a blight on south Florida, and would simply be too painful to bear,” he stated.

“It’s one of many solely naturally occurring islands in Biscayne Bay, it’s coated with protected mangroves, and is effective to fish and plenty of different species of marine life, in addition to the birds. Its biodiversity, the wealth of life, makes Hen Key a extremely particular and magical place.”

The itemizing acknowledges that any purchaser might “purchase and use [the island] for environmental mitigation, or one might purchase it to donate it to the general public as an environmental treasure”. Boykin, nevertheless, questions whether or not that will probably be possible.

“It’d be fantastic, in fact, if the island was bought by somebody that will protect it, whether or not it’s the federal, state or county authorities, however at an asking worth of $31.5m, I simply don’t know,” he stated.

Because the New Occasions reported, Miami-Dade mayor Daniella Levine Cava made efforts final yr to attempt to buy the island for the county, in a partnership with The Nature Conservancy, however it fell by means of.

“My administration has been carefully following the method at Hen Key and made a purchase order provide that sadly didn’t meet the proprietor’s expectations,” she stated in a press release.

A snowy egret in Myakka River state park, Florida, three hours north-west of Miami, in an undated picture. {Photograph}: georgesanker.com/Alamy

“Biscayne Bay is dwelling to a few of Florida’s most iconic species, together with birds, marine life, and storm-reducing mangroves, so a chance to revive our bay and shield its wildlife by means of land acquisition is one thing my administration will all the time think about.”

Levine Cava has been energetic in wildlife points since she was elected in 2020, and has led the county’s combat to have Miami’s Seaquarium theme park closed down amid accusations of animal deaths, mistreatment and facility questions of safety.

She stated Miami-Dade was nonetheless eager about buying Hen Key.

“We’re keen to seek out options, together with state or federal assist, to buy this property and broaden the footprint of our Biscayne Bay safety applications,” she stated.

The Nature Conservancy stated its provide for the island in partnership with the county continues to be legitimate, and open for negotiation.

“We’re hopeful we will discover a answer that may be acceptable to each events. We all know that the proprietor and the county have an curiosity in defending the world,” stated Roberto Torres, Miami-Dade undertaking supervisor for the conservancy.

Even when the county is unable to finish the acquisition, it might nonetheless have a major say in Hen Key’s future. Biscayne Bay is an aquatic protect with particular environmental protections, and any improvement plans must survive shut scrutiny and meet strict requirements to win approval.

Boykin stated he had shed tears over Hen Key’s plight, which has included a drop within the variety of seabirds lately, largely by means of air pollution, decreased meals shares for prey species and human disturbance corresponding to a development in the usage of noisy private watercraft.

“I and plenty of others are nonetheless mourning the lack of the chicken rookery. There’s hope the birds will come again, however there’s no certainty,” he stated.

“Promoting it now for improvement is simply not the most effective consequence for nature and our pure world of environmental conservation in south Florida.”

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