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Miami Herald: Welcome to Florida, newcomers. Here’s how to invest in the future we share.

CARLOS M. DE LA CRUZ JR. November 14, 2023 at 11:07 PM

When South Florida embraced soccer icon Lionel Messi, it was yet another testament to our state’s allure for celebrities, moguls, and tech titans trading snow and taxes for sunshine and sea breezes. While newcomers luxuriate in homes with views of Biscayne Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, they must understand that the real future of Florida doesn’t just lie on its coast but deep within its majestic wetlands — America’s Everglades. This ecosystem nurtures close to 2,000 species of plants and animals, provides clean drinking water for millions of people and captures carbon that could otherwise heat the planet.

I might not be the typical nature enthusiast — I feel more at ease in a boardroom than in a kayak — yet championing the Everglades tops my list of priorities. The Everglades is synonymous with Florida’s future, a future my wife, Claudia, and I deeply care about. As parents, grandparents, foster parents, and active community leaders, we’re heavily invested in the well-being of Florida’s children. My dedication as chairman of The Everglades Foundation reflects that commitment.

Education is one part of it. Close to 200,000 students across Florida owe their Everglades literacy to the Foundation’s educational initiatives. By imparting essential STEM skills and fostering an understanding of our connection to nature, we’re cultivating future guardians of our environment.

At the same time, backing The Everglades Foundation is astoundingly prudent from a business perspective. The Palmetto Bay-based nonprofit has played a central role in shaping state and federal policy since it was founded 30 years ago by a pair of fishing buddies who believed the Everglades is worth fighting for.

By focusing on science, informing nonpartisan policy solutions and advocating fiercely in both Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., the Foundation played a central role in shaping the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan adopted by Congress in 2000 — and has fought for its implementation ever since. This relentless push culminated this year in the groundbreaking for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir, where water from Lake Okeechobee will be cleaned before being released into the Everglades, restoring the vital southern flow of the River of Grass.

It’s heartening to see a nonprofit invest $38 million in private, charitable funds over the past four years to help unlock $3.7 billion in government funding for Everglades restoration while ensuring freshwater nourishes our wetlands rather than draining straight into the ocean.

The mission to rehabilitate the Everglades faces formidable challenges. Over a century of attempts to drain these wetlands for agriculture and development has resulted in an entrenched status quo. Endangered birds, plants and fishing guides can’t bankroll influential lobbyists. Instead, they rely on champions like the late Jimmy Buffett, who supported The Everglades Foundation in word and deed, and others who recognize the importance of America’s Everglades.

Momentum is changing as the science becomes known. In Miami, civic leaders such as the Jorge M. Perez Family Foundation, Knight Foundation, The Batchelor Foundation, Green Family Foundation, Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Family Foundation, The Micky and Madeleine Arison Foundation and Maurice and Maria Dolores Ferre, along with newcomer Ken Griffin, have joined the effort.

The importance of the Everglades extends beyond clean water. With its sprawling seagrass beds, mangrove thickets and peat soil, the Everglades is a carbon sponge, buffering us against global warming.

Historically, when the water of Lake Okeechobee rises, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases it into canals leading to the east and west coasts of Florida. Rich in fertilizer from Florida’s sugar plantations and other runoff, the water contributes to outbreaks of toxic blue-green algae and intensifies red tides that kill fish and cripple coastal tourism.

The EAA Reservoir marks a pivotal shift in redirecting cleaner water southwards through the Everglades, but those gains need to be consolidated and protected. Contributing to the ForEverglades Endowment will be part of my family’s legacy, and I sincerely hope it becomes yours too. Florida’s future, encapsulated in its sprawling wetlands, deserves no less.

Read full piece in the Miami Herald.


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