Over the past century, the Everglades have been mutilated by the people of south Florida. Many people had (and some still have) the view that the Everglades are a nasty, creepy, useless swampy mess. Home to alligators, venomous snakes and millions of mosquitoes, it's understandable how the Everglades could get such a bad reputation.
The truth is, though, that the Everglades ecosystems are important to 67 federally threatened and endangered species and to the survival of the human population of south Florida.
Last week, I attended the Greater Everglades Ecosystems Restoration (GEER
) conference in Naples, Fla. The Everglades ecosystems cover a large area, and the attendance at the conference reflected that. It was amazing to me how many people, who are part of so many different organizations and agencies, are working to restore the Everglades.
This year's conference themed "The Greater Everglades: A Living Laboratory of Change," highlighted the fact that ecosystems are constantly changing, either by way of natural processes or anthropogenic forces, and that change needs to be factored in when working to protect these ecosystems.
The Everglades have experienced all kinds of change. The water flow has been drastically altered over the last hundred years by canals and drainage efforts, and continues to change with plans to restore a more natural flow of water through the Everglades. South Florida's tropical climate has also facilitated the establishment of several exotic species
like the climbing fern and the Burmese python which can affect the other species that are part of the ecosystem.
Of course, climate change is on everyone's mind right now, and south Florida and the Everglades ecosystems are extremely vulnerable to its effects. With an elevation of three feet at Rock Reef Pass in Everglades National Park and sea level rise predictions of three to five feet by 2100, a large portion of the Everglades will be flooded with saltwater, altering crucial habitats and jeopardizing the freshwater supply to south Florida.
It might be the urgency of the situation, with respect to climate trends, that has motivated such a collaborative response to Everglades restoration, but it should be a lesson and inspiration to the rest of the country. Large-scale restoration can happen.
The Everglades aren't there yet, but it is a continuous project. For five days, managers, scientists and policy makers got together to celebrate the triumphs and discuss the obstacles they still face.