Florida is a gorgeous state, and when most people think about it what comes to mind is sunny beaches and Spring Break. However, the Sunshine State plays an important role in the sustainability of our planet through its diverse ecosystem.
Florida’s ecosystem has been drastically altered over the last five decades by urban development as the population has increased. This has negatively affected the health of the Florida ecosystem. Abiotic and biotic components of nature are needed to provide the means through which solar energy is transferred through the biosphere’s phosphorus cycling and other major nutrient cycling.
There are several different varieties of animals, plants and microorganisms in most ecosystems. These ecosystems come in the form of forests, swamps, streams, reefs and more. The natural ecosystem of Florida is extremely precious because it makes a disproportionate and huge contribution to the earth’s biodiversity.
There is a famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi “What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”1 That quote succinctly highlights the very essence of the constant struggle between the environment and urban development. Nowhere is this struggle for balance between the two more pronounced than in the majestic Florida Everglades.
The Everglades in Trouble
The trouble began for the everglades in 1948 when the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Flood Control project was introduced to create canals and dikes to control and deliver water for agriculture and urban development to central and southern Florida. Once the project came to a close, a large portion of the everglade’s fragile ecosystem had been drained away. By 2011, nearly fifty percent of the original 11 million acres of the everglade’s footprint was lost.
When the C&SF project concluded, the terrain of the Florida Everglades was altered and no longer fit in with the larger ecology of Florida. Over time, countless animals fled their lost habitat in the region and headed for neighboring lands. They soon began to clash with the surrounding vulnerable ecosystems.
Hope for the Everglades
There are several stewards for conservationism that are helping the Florida Everglades recover. One of these organizations is the Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy recognized that the Florida Everglades was in crisis and soon went to work to preserve over 360,000 acres in the everglades. There are long-leaf pines, seasonal wetlands and cattle ranches within the 170-mile range of the protected conservatory.
At the heart of their efforts is the Disney Wilderness Preserve located in Kissimmee. This 11,550-acre stretch of land near the headwaters is being developed to restore previous ranchlands.
Federal and private property is split 60/40 in the everglades, and that is beneficial because it allows terrific opportunities to work on existing conservation projects such as The Disney Wilderness Preserve and serves to strengthen the system’s resolve regarding any further threats.
The Nature Conservancy has launched a ten-year plan to change the everglades for the better. The plan includes connecting preserved waterways and land for animals that have a far range such as the wood storks and Florida Panther. The ten-year plan will also:
- Bring back the water storage capacity of drained and ditched freshwater wetlands in the Northern Everglades that had been drained in the past. The action will result in 100,000 acre-ft. of natural water repositories. Much of the everglade’s water supply, estuaries and wildlife will benefit from this action.
- Continue low intensity uses of agriculture and ranching in 90% of the 1.1 million acres that was lost by 2011. This action has the far-reaching potential of increasing restoration and protection efforts.
- Allow permanent protection of 300,000+ acres of private and publicly owned land. This will allow wide movement of far-ranging species of wildlife and allow conservation of economical ranching in this large range of acreage.
- Make sure that about 75% of public-owned conservatory terrain stays healthy and managed the correct way to eliminate the threat of invasive species, climate change and transformed fire regimes.
The Nature Conservancy is one organization that took the environmental disaster in the everglades and helped it begin traveling down the road of recovery. Their efforts along with other organizations and partners are working together to preserve and revive the wetland corridors in the Florida Everglades.
The years of diking and ditching of the everglades has made it vulnerable to the growing threat of climate change, though. The Florida Everglades face an increased threat of rising sea levels and temperatures and decreased precipitation because of the extensive development.
There are other organizations besides the Nature Conservancy that work to restore the everglades as close as possible to its original state in some areas. One of note that is involved in restoration of the everglades and championing other environmental causes is the Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club
John Muir founded the Sierra Club in 1892, and it is one of the largest and most influential environmental grass roots organizations in the U.S. The Sierra Club has over two million members and the organization’s motto is to “Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet.”2
The Sierra Club considers restoring the everglades back to its original state a top priority and has been involved in activism for the Everglades Skyway project. The Skyway Bridge that is a part of the project is instrumental to getting fresh water to flow again and combating the rise of sea levels.
The Sierra Club’s efforts have been instrumental in the funding of the Skyway because they recruited environmental champions who sent thousands of petition letters urging President Obama to fund the project. In the end, the president proved that he is an environmental leader who stood with the Sierra Club by funding the Everglades Skyway project.
The Club has protected millions of acres of land in the Everglades, and they are also big opponents of dirty fossil fuels and feel that they harm the environment in Florida and other states. They have led efforts to move the nation away from coal-fired power plants.
They stress that this type if energy is backward and outdated and should be phased out immediately to eliminate any further damage to the environment. The Sierra Club also goes on to point out that coal-fired power plants are responsible for a big part of climate change because a third of carbon emissions in the atmosphere come from coal burning.
To answer the climate crisis regarding fossil fuel emissions, the Sierra Club started the Beyond Coal campaign to phase in clean energy in the place of dirty coal technology and infrastructure.
One of Beyond Coal’s main goals is to mobilize grassroots activists in neighborhood communities that will push out existing coal-fired power plants and prevent any new ones from being built. The Beyond Coal campaign aims to:
- Make sure coal is not mined in Appalachia and the Powder River Basin of Wyoming
- Close a third of the 500 coal plants in the United States by 2020
- Replace the majority of the closed coal plants with clean alternative energy sources such as solar, geothermal and wind.
The carbon emissions in the atmosphere make a big part of the United State’s population sick and leads to at least 13,000 premature deaths annually and $100 billion in health costs. Florida feels the impact of this along with the rest of the nation, and the Sierra Club has helped drive the Clean Air and Water campaigns that have helped push conservation and cleanup efforts in the state.
Other impacts to public health are felt in Florida, and agencies such as the Florida Department of Health help the population stay healthy by preventing disease outbreaks.
Florida Public Health Issues
Anyone that is familiar with Florida knows that it is a state that is fairly warm all year round, and some parts of the state even have a tropical climate. Insects, most notably mosquitoes carry many diseases that are a threat to Florida public health. Mosquitos thrive in the Florida climate, and the Florida Department of Health is an important part of keeping mosquito-borne diseases under control.
Any disease that originates within the environment is under the agency’s umbrella. They provide activities such as prevention, education and preparedness to help combat diseases. The agency implements many of their methods by using monitoring and surveillance. They also monitor and visit places that potentially harbor conditions that can transmit disease or cause diseases to reoccur.
Mosquito-borne illnesses that have been reported in Florida include malaria, yellow fever, encephalitis, and SLEV and EEEV infection. The Florida Department of Health uses the surveillance method to look at how the diseases are transmitted to human, domestic and wild sources. They also monitor and conduct surveillance for virus activity by animal testing (chickens).
Likewise, The Florida Department of Health offers the public education about protecting yourself from mosquitos. One is the Drain and Cover Method presented in the Mosquito Prevention section of their website. They urge you to protect yourself from being bit and prevent mosquitos from multiplying around your residence or business.
For instance, they recommend you do the following: 1) Drain out any standing water to prevent mosquitos from breeding, 2) Make sure your skin is covered with clothing and you put on mosquito repellant, and 3) Cover windows and doors with a screen that will keep the mosquitos out.
Progress and modification of Florida’s ecosystems has been happening for about 10,000 years. Throughout most of this period, the state’s natural resources were sustainable. In the past, development did not overly limit the environment’s ability to provide clean water and air and a healthy and productive ecosystem.
Lately, the massive demand for Florida’s natural resources is becoming more and more unsustainable. Hopefully, Florida can reverse the damage done within her borders through the hard work of her individual citizens and conservation groups.