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Posts Tagged ‘Everglades’

Map: Jacob Turcotte/Christian Science Monitor.
Efforts are afoot in Florida to save the the biodiversity of the Everglades by saving the water.

Last Thanksgiving, when John and family went to Florida, they sent great videos of a ride on one of those Everglades airboats that seem to float above the surface and allow visitors to get up close and personal with Everglades wildlife.

I had read, though, that the Everglades region was in trouble from overdevelopment and water pollution. Today’s article shows people are making a strong effort to protect it.

Richard Mertens has the story at the Christian Science Monitor, “Eight hundred feet up, the helicopter banks hard to the left. The horizon disappears. Mark Cook, an avian biologist, peers out his side window at a small irregular patch of water below. It’s hardly distinguishable from innumerable other patches that lie in every direction, dark and shining amid a ragged expanse of brown marsh grass and green tree islands.

“There’s one small difference: This patch is flecked with tiny specks of white, scattered like scraps of paper around a puddle.

“ ‘This year is pretty quiet,’ Dr. Cook has been saying. ‘It’s not very good for wading birds.’

“Now he looks more closely. The specks resolve into a variety of different birds, not all of them white: great egrets, snowy egrets, wood storks, white ibises, and pale pink roseate spoonbills, all standing in and around the shallow water. …

“For the birds of the Everglades, it’s not really been good for almost a century. First came the plume hunters of the 1800s and early 1900s, who shot birds by the thousands so that their feathers could adorn women’s hats in New York and London. Then came the speculators, developers, and visionaries who did more lasting damage, draining the marshes, logging the cypress swamps, digging canals, and building levees. They turned the Everglades into fields and housing tracts until half of it was gone. What’s more, says Paul Gray, a biologist with Audubon Florida, ‘The half of what’s there is all screwed up.’ 

“Today the state of Florida, the federal government, and many private organizations and individuals are working to bring the Everglades back -– at least the half that’s still left. Everglades restoration became national policy in 2000 when Congress adopted the $7.8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

“Since then, lawsuits, political fighting, and dwindled funding have at times slowed progress. But in recent years restoration efforts have gained momentum. Some projects have been completed, and new ones are underway. …

“ ‘The Everglades ball is rolling,’ says Peter Frederick, a retired wildlife ecologist at the University of Florida and an expert on Everglades restoration. 

“But will it work? Everglades restoration is a long-term undertaking. It’s expected to cost $23.2 billion and take until 2050 to finish. People often say it’s the largest ecological restoration project ever. ‘A lot could stop it,’ says Dr. Frederick. …

The Everglades system is unique in the world, an inextricable mix of water and vegetation resting on a shallow bed of porous limestone.

“More than just Everglades National Park, the Everglades once encompassed the whole southern third of the Florida Peninsula. … In those days, water that fell during Florida’s summer rains drained slowly south into Lake Okeechobee, a huge basin that in many places is hardly deeper than a suburban swimming pool. When the water was high, it lapped over the southern rim and flowed a hundred miles south in a broad sheet, through swamps and saw-grass marshes, wet prairies and sloughs, before finally discharging through mangrove swamps and coastal islands into the Gulf of Mexico. It was a rich and biologically diverse ecosystem governed by water. And the land was very flat. …

“Today those Everglades are mostly gone. They’re no longer a single vast interconnected system of flowing water but a collection of divided and diminished parts – large shallow basins separated by levees and tied together by gates and canals, with some devoted to holding water, some to cleaning it, and others to conserving wildlife.

“Lake Okeechobee is diked and polluted, and the swamps and saw-grass marshes that once received its overflowing waters are a checkerboard of sugar cane fields. The flow of water from north to south is much reduced, where it survives at all. For all its natural abundance, the Everglades today is an artificial landscape, a creature of engineering as much as topography and nature. 

“The main challenge of restoration is hydrological. It’s to re-create the old pre-drainage conditions by delivering more clean water to the Everglades. It’s to bring back the old cycle of rising water in summer followed by a long drying out through the winter. It’s to restore, at least in part, the slow flow south.

“The easiest way to accomplish this would be simply to pull the plug: tear down the dikes and levees, fill the canals, and send the engineers home. But restoration is also political, and it has always involved more than the Everglades. Its aim is also to provide clean water to coastal cities and estuaries and protect them from flooding. It’s to preserve and irrigate an agricultural district the size of Rhode Island that sits in the middle. …

“ ‘They all say the best engineer is no engineer at all,’ says Dr. Frederick. ‘Let nature do the work. The problem is that we now want to do more things with that water than we used to.’

“Dr. Cook enjoys a stork’s-eye view of the Everglades. His weekly flights take him over both the good and the bad, the degraded and the only partly degraded. [Some] areas are thick with cattails, a sign of nutrient pollution. Passing over one of these, Dr. Cook says, ‘We can’t get it back to what it once was, for maybe 100 to 200 years. But we can improve it for wildlife.’ …

“Sometimes there are surprises. In 2017, Hurricane Irma inundated the Everglades. The next spring, birds nested in numbers no one living had ever seen. To biologists, it seemed a vision of the old Everglades – and of what might still be.

“ ‘As an ecologist, you think, you get the water right and maybe they’ll come back,’ Dr. Cook says.”

Lots more on what’s being done at the Monitor, here. No firewall.

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