The health of Florida Bay, the Florida Keys and the Florida Reef is directly tied to the health of America’s Everglades. This was the focus of discussion at the Everglades Law Center’s (ELC) “Keys Restoration Forum” on June 16 at the Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo. Three experts spoke on different aspects of the topic, including Dr. Stephen Davis of the Everglades Foundation who discussed need to restore the Greater Everglades Ecosystem and the importance of storage south of Lake Okeechobee.
In his presentation, Davis described recent conditions, including a lack of freshwater inflow to Everglades National Park and its effect on the salinity in Florida Bay. Areas of the bay are currently hyper-saline — meaning some areas have salinity values much higher than seawater, which is typically 35 parts per thousand. “We have areas of Florida Bay that are currently above 60 parts per thousand. Extended periods of this can be detrimental to Florida Bay’s ecology,” said Davis who also cited recent science research from NOAA indicating spotted seatrout declines in relation to increased frequency of hyper-salinity events in Florida Bay. “The science is telling us that juvenile spotted seatrout have not done well in central and western Florida Bay due to long-term declines in freshwater inflow through the Everglades,” stated Davis. “This coincides with anecdotal information we are hearing from many of the guides that regularly fish these waters for this important species.”
Other speakers at the Keys Restoration Forum included Ken Nedimyer, founder of the Coral Restoration Foundation, and Dr. Jerry Ault, a fisheries ecologist from the University of Miami. Mr. Nedimyer, an expert in coral, was named “Sea Hero of the Year” in 2014 by Scuba Diving magazine for his tireless effort to restore coral reefs in Florida. Nedimyer wowed the audience with stunning photos of his underwater coral gardens. He also captivated the audience with his stories of success and failure in trying to re-establish these critical habitats that are affected by everything from human disturbance, poor water quality and climate change. Dr. Ault wrapped up the forum with an impressive talk on marine reserves as a means to protect and restore key fish species along the Florida Keys. Citing the success we have seen in the Dry Tortugas, Dr. Ault painted an optimistic picture of fisheries restoration if the public is willing to set aside protected areas that can serve as “seed sources” for the population.
The forum concluded with an extended Q&A session for attendees who were interested in the health of these habitats in their backyard. According to event organizer and ELC Attorney Julie Dick, “the health of Florida Bay is closely linked to Everglades restoration. It is because of this connection that the residents of the Florida Keys have a strong history of advocating for restoring the Everglades.” Dick also reflected that, “Events like this help to reinvigorate Everglades advocates in the Keys.”