How Did the Everglades Wetlands Become Dry?
The study of how the Everglades wetlands became drier illustrates the complex relationships among water and land. Drier conditions can result in reduced water flows and a decrease in flood-tolerant vegetation. Reduced water flows also reduce the abundance of fish and invertebrates, which negatively affect the populations of wading birds and other species. The tipping point is when species lose their abundance.
In the early twentieth century, humans began to exert greater control over hydrology in south Florida. The first attempts to drain wetlands were made to make agricultural land more profitable, and eventually to enable human settlement of the Everglades. These water management projects relied on the construction of levees, canals, and pumps to divert water. In the process, the Everglades ecosystem shrank to less than a third of its original size.
The Everglades are now less prone to fires thanks to better water management and restoration work. Prescribed burns, which clear vegetation and release nutrients, have also helped keep the Everglades wet. These fires also encourage regrowth during the rainy season.
The Everglades is the largest subtropical ecosystem of wetland ecosystems in America. It has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site as well as a Wetland Internationally Important. Over the past century, the Everglades has undergone radical changes in water flow and quality.
Everglades management has been the center of conservation and restoration since the mid-1990s. As scientists sought to synthesize information and solve chronic environmental problems, planning processes emerged. These efforts culminated with the passing of the Everglades Restoration Act 2000, which authorized restoration costs up to $7.8 million USD.
This ecosystem is unique in its makeup. It includes sawgrass marshes, open-water sloughs, cypress swamps, mangrove swamps, and pinelands. Although the Everglades ecosystem is a vast wilderness it is also one of the most visited national parks.
To prevent further degradation of the wetlands, adaptation plans may be necessary. Climate change adaptation plans should address the management of water demand and supply as well as the management of related land resources. These issues are currently being researched by the South Florida Water, Sustainability, and Climate Project.