Science and the Nature of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem

With the dedication of Everglades National Park in 1947, a new precedent was set in the growing conservation movement. For the first time in American history, a large tract of wilderness was permanently protected not for its scenic value, but for the benefit of the unique diversity of life it sustained [1]

But the Everglades is slowly dying: poisoned by chemical fertilizers discharged by sugar cane and other farming to its north; degraded by canals that restrict the natural flow of its fresh water, sometimes diverting too much to cities and towns and sometimes drowning the wild glades to spare the urban areas from flooding. Invasive plants and animals threaten the native ecology. None of the Worlds great wetlands are subjected to such intense human pressure. The Everglades shares the bottom half of the Florida peninsula with a large metropolitan area of over six million people and is visited every year by many millions more: part time residents and tourists, including anglers hunters and boaters who come to take advantage of the very diversity that is threatened

The stakes are much higher than many people realize. The remaining land outside the national park cannot be turned into housing tracts without consequences. The soil will disappear (as is already happening), the aquifer will decline and seawater will intrude further. Rainfall patterns will be altered. Less water will be available for urban and agricultural areas. Everglades National Park, a major tourist site, will continue to lose its biodiversity. Dangerous levels of mercury in fresh water fish will increase. Florida Bay will decline along with marine fish and coral reefs. All this will have a large negative impact on the economy and lifestyle of South Florida residents.

Because the process of degradation is not sudden, and because extraordinary resources have been mobilized to better understand and to restore the everglades, there is hope; but it will take a massive effort to succeed. If we are to understand this struggle, we need to understand: How did the Everglades come about? What IS the everglades? and What are the challenges it faces?