CHALLENGES TO A SENSITIVE AND FRAGILE ECOSYSTEM
Sadly, the Everglades is particularly sensitive to external threats from humans. It has been and continues to be severely degraded. The same characteristics that make it so unique also make the everglades especially sensitive to human impact. We have mentioned that the attraction of the park rests heavily on its biological complexity. The scenery has a subtle beauty, but one which relies on the extraordinary complexity of the web of life, from microscopic periphyton, the base of most everglades food chains, to giant reptiles. This very complexity and interconnectedness introduces vulnerability. Probably the major potential threat to the everglades is still the danger of loss of habitat from urban development. More and more land has been lost to “development”, until protected areas represent only half of the original everglades. Short of this catastrophe, there are three more indirect challenges that can accelerate decline even as “restoration” continues. These are the mismanagement of water distribution, the decline of water quality and the continued appearance and expansion of invasive species.
- The distribution of water, or “water management” is the most commonly mentioned problem in the stoplight indicator section. The seasonality of water levels (too low and too high at the wrong times) has been and continues to be the major factor in the decline of many species.
- The quality of the water distributed can also have an important negative impact if it carries an over abundance of toxins, nutrient pollution such as phosphorus and nitrogen or toxic combinations of elements such as sulfur and mercury.
- The Greater Everglades Ecosystem is attractive to a wide variety of invasive plants and animals, introduced by humans. Second only to habitat destruction, invasive exotics are the primary cause of species endangerment and have contributed to nearly 70 percent of extinctions in the United States. (National Park Service)