2018 Intern Blog Series – Week 4: Promoting Environmental Awareness Within Florida: Mission Everglades

2018 Intern Blog Series – Week 4: Promoting Environmental Awareness Within Florida: Mission Everglades

Categories: Blog

Cady on our tour of the University of Miami.

This week was a bit shorter than some of the others we have had thus far. Tuesday, our tour with Betty Osceola of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and of Big Cypress had to be rescheduled, so we took the day to work on our personal projects and toured the University of Miami. Natalie was happy to scout out another potential graduate school, while I found unexpected pleasure in reading about research being piloted by the university in the Cox Science Building. One such study was looking at the effects of sea level rise projections on Miami-Dade county which was shocking: a rise of two feet between 2054 and 2078 would comprise 28% of the county’s landmass.

From front to back: Natalie, Bella, and Zion crawling through the crocodile exhibit at Zoo Miami.  

Wednesday we took a personal tour of the Zoo Miami with conservation biologist Dr. Stephen Whitfield. This was awesome for two reasons: firstly, we got to get an insider’s scoop on the zoo’s conservation efforts, and secondly, we got to go behind-the-scenes in a restricted area (I can check that off my bucket list). During our time with him, Dr. Whitfield talked about recent studies he has been conducting on whether or not flamingos are native to Florida. Currently the birds are considered non-native, though Whitfield’s publication in The Condor seeks to challenge that idea through historical narrative accounts and museum collections.

Brown Pelicans featured in the Florida: Mission Everglades Zoo Miami exhibit.

Whitfield also had some really insightful points about the roles that zoos serve in restoration ecology. Not only have zoos created successful breeding and reintroduction programs that have saved the Red Wolf, California Condor, and other species from the brink of extinction, but zoos also educate the public about the animals they are serving to protect. For Zoo Miami, this has taken the path of an Everglades exhibit established in 2016 and new signs installed around the zoo to bring attention to environmental issues and endangered species. For example Satu, one of the Sumatran tigers featured in the zoo, was accompanied with volunteers and a sign to raise awareness about the palm oil industry and how it has contributed to the destruction of 93% of tigers’ historic range.

Coming back from lunch to attend the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project presentation at the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board meeting.

Other than that, we also attended a South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board meeting this week. Though some of the presentations were a rehash of what we witnessed at the WRAC meeting the week before, there was a distinctive quality about them. Namely, there was a lot of discussion surrounding the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, an endangered species that nests six inches above the ground and thus is susceptible to flooding within Everglades National Park. Because the sparrow needs can restrict water flow into the park, it has been blamed for hydrological issues in the Everglades watershed. In reality, some conservation biologists consider it an umbrella species, whose protection under the Endangered Species Act helps mandate responsible preservation of Everglades National Park and encourage the completion of projects south of Tamiami Trail to resolve the water management issue.

Water management will also improve with the implementation of more CERP projects. Additional storage provided by the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir and the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project will not only positively affect the health of the Everglades but also the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. The SFWMD meeting also included updates about the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, including a new license agreement that hopes to increase recreational activities and continued removal of nonnative plant species like Old World climbing fern and Melaleuca.

From left to right: Natalie, Cady, and Zion with a giraffe at Zoo Miami.

While the SFWMD meeting showcased many different initiatives and ecological/water conditions reports, I would say the highlight for me this week still lays with Zoo Miami. Finding out just how many of the animals present were either orphaned, injured, or imprinted on humans eased my conscious about the ethics of zookeeping, and talking to a conservation biologist about how the Everglades exhibit is helping instill a greater intrinsic value of Florida’s natural heritage made me feel confident around what our zoos can do to help protect the natural world.

-ZJ