1. Where is the Everglades and how big is it?
It’s bigger than you think and just half its original size!
Good question. You want to know where you’re going before you go there.
What most people think of as “America’s Everglades” is limited to Everglades National Park, 1.5 million acres of subtropical wilderness in South Florida. But the River of Grass is close to 3 million acres, double the size of the park, and it encompasses the park, three water conservation areas and Big Cypress National Preserve. The greater Everglades ecosystem is even larger and originally encompassed 6 million acres extending all the way from the Kissimmee River basin near Orlando, south to Florida Bay and the Florida Keys.
The original “River of Grass” was almost twice its current size before we “drained the swamp” for agriculture and development in one of mankind’s biggest reclamation efforts.
2. How’s the weather?
Wet or Dry
That depends. South Florida and America’s Everglades have what is known as a “tropical savanna” climate, meaning there are only two seasons – wet and dry.
The “wet” season, which coincides with hurricane season, lasts from April to November; the “dry” season, which is the best time to visit and see wading birds and other wildlife, is from December to March.
3.What is there to see?
One of the largest wetlands in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Besides offering world-class fishing and bird watching, America’s Everglades is home to more than 2,000 species of plants and animals, including 78 that are threatened or endangered.
This is the only place in the world where you can see alligators and crocodiles living together, and where birds like the roseate spoonbill, white ibis and Everglade snail kite feast and raise their young. While much of the Everglades is covered in razor-sharp sawgrass, the region also encompasses tropical hardwood hammocks (island forests), mangrove swamps, cypress and pine forests, and freshwater prairie..
4. I know alligators live there, but how does the Everglades benefit people?
For starters, it’s the source of water for 9 million people.
Without the Everglades, life would not be sustainable in South Florida. That’s because the Everglades supplies most of the drinking water for the 9 million (and growing) residents of South Florida and countless visitors. For example, all the drinking water for Miami-Dade and Broward counties comes from the Biscayne Aquifer, which is continually replenished by the Everglades.
5. In addition to supplying drinking water, is it good for anything else?
The Everglades fights climate change
When healthy, the Everglades wilderness serves as a “carbon bank” that continually sequesters massive amounts of carbon. It is estimated that the mangroves in Everglades National Park alone hold enough carbon to heat more than 19 million homes, while the water conservation areas in the central Everglades store the equivalent carbon emitted by 131.5 million passenger vehicles over an entire year.
When subjected to drought, however, overdried areas of the Everglades catch fire, turning this enormous ecosystem in to a massive carbon emitter. Everglades restoration will keep the ecosystem hydrated during South Florida’s dry months, thereby protecting it against drought and wildfires. A healthy and wet Everglades will maximize the carbon sequestration capacity of the ecosystem.
6. How else does the Everglades help us?
The Everglades provides a buffer from hurricanes and protects our shoreline.
During the worst of hurricane season, the Everglades has historically provided an essential “buffer” that slows storms’ intensity, providing protection for populated areas throughout South Florida. Mangroves close to the coast also help stabilize the shoreline, reducing flooding from storm surge and protecting wildlife habitats.
Everglades restoration will reinstate a freshwater flow to keep mangroves healthy so they can continue their many beneficial natural functions, including protecting Florida’s coastline.
7. Does the Everglades really impact the economy?
The Everglades is critical to Florida’s clean water economy
Tourism and real estate are Florida’s top economic engines. These industries drive our 21st century economy. Florida’s tourists and residents come here for the environment and water – the beaches and springs, the world class fishing, the boating, the biodiversity. When beaches are closed and fishing is restricted because of blue-green algae or red tide, Florida’s economy takes a major hit.
Everglades restoration will move Lake Okeechobee’s polluted water south and clean it, reducing algae blooms and protecting Florida’s iconic environment upon which tourism and real estate depend. For every $1 invested in Everglades restoration, $4 is returned to Florida in the form of greater economic growth.
8. Why does the Everglades even need to be restored?
Everglades restoration is about moving freshwater from Lake Okeechobee south through the Everglades to Florida Bay, where it would naturally go.
In the early 1900’s, the River of Grass’ natural southern flow of water from the Kissimmee River to Florida Bay was significantly altered to accommodate the agricultural industry. Unfortunately, the Everglades was drained and freshwater was redirected east and west to the coasts. This manmade environmental redesign resulted in significant harm that continues to hurt the ecosystem and the urban communities that rely on clean freshwater to flourish.
Everglades restoration’s goal is to restore a more natural southward flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades and Florida Bay. Today, more than two-thirds of the freshwater that used to flow south into Florida Bay is being flushed to the coasts. This water is laden with “nutrients” (fertilizers and agricultural waste) that feed toxic blue-green algae and red tide causing environmental and economic harm to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
Instead of wasting freshwater, restoration activities will ensure that lake water is stored in reservoirs, cleaned through manmade wetlands, and then sent south to the Everglades. Everglades restoration will significantly reduce the harmful discharges of water to the east and west coasts by storing, cleaning, and sending freshwater south to the Everglades and Florida Bay where it is desperately needed to protect the ecosystem, drinking water, and local economies.
9. Who is restoring the Everglades? How long will it take?
Everglades restoration is the biggest environmental restoration project in history and it relies on partnership
“Everglades restoration” refers to the suite of more than 68 public works projects that aim to restore the natural southerly flow of freshwater from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades and into Florida Bay. The projects for the largest environmental restoration project ever attempted by man were outlined in legislation signed into law in 2000 called the “Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan” – or “CERP.”
The implementation of CERP depends on a 50/50 partnership between the federal and state governments to pay for construction of all the projects. Those who advocate for America’s Everglades have engaged in a concerted effort to secure the necessary funding and progress is finally being made. CERP is supposed to be completed by 2030, though funding has been limited in the past, The Everglades Foundation is leading to advance funding at both the state and federal levels.
10. How can I help?
That’s easy. Join us.
You’re at the right place. For more than 25 years, The Everglades Foundation has been the premiere organization fighting to restore and protect America’s Everglades through science, education, and advocacy.
You can sign up to learn more, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and, of course, we will appreciate any amount you can afford to give to support our mission at https://www.evergladesfoundation.org/give-now