To celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial in 2016, NBC’s Today Show visited the Everglades to go slough-slogging through Everglades National Park and sail the pristine waters of Florida Bay.
The segment highlighted the beauty and biodiversity that makes the Everglades one of the world’s most diverse and unique ecosystems – home to over 70 threatened and endangered species – and why it has been immortalized in breathtaking prose, images and video over the last century.
But there’s a side of Everglades National Park you didn’t see on TV – delicate mangrove forests clinging to diminishing wetland areas, amid a shrinking mix of salt water and fresh water. The Everglades is now half its original size, a once flourishing water supply for more than 8 million Floridians is dwindling down to a trickle.
Look no further than Florida Bay, at the southernmost tip of Everglades National Park, to truly witness this ecosystem on life support. Florida Bay contains the largest seagrass bed in the world and supports the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. But today, Florida Bay hardly looks like the crystal clear water Natalie Morales and Jenna Bush were boating through on TV.
“The seagrass is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet,” explained Everglades Foundation scientist Dr. Steve Davis. Roughly 50,000 acres of Florida Bay seagrass is dead (more than twice the size of the City of Miami), and the die-off is occurring at record rate we haven’t seen the 1980s. During the day, dead seagrass rises to the top of the water’s surface and then sinks back to the bottom at night, earning it the dubious nickname “zombie grass.”
Nearly a century of digging canals, building damns and mismanagement of this World Heritage Site made the “River of Grass” increasingly inhospitable. We’ve seen this all before. In 2000, Congress passed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan to restore historic flow of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee south through the Everglades and into the Bay, after a sea grass die off triggered algal blooms and devastated Florida’s ecology and economy in the 1990s.
At the Everglades Foundation, we’ve spent the past 20 years studying this subtropical wetland system and identifying solutions to reverse this damage that rooted in both scientific evidence and practical feasibility. The solution mapped out nearly 16 years ago by Congress is still the right one: storing and sending water south and you can help make that happen.
Delays to those critical restoration projects are costly. We need leadership at all levels, both public and private, to advance projects that will store and treat water to send water south from Lake Okeechobee and into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. Click here to see how you can help bring Florida Bay back from the dead.