The Everglades Foundation: Science First | #MindYourWake Series
Just south of Orlando, Florida, you’ll find the largest subtropical wetland in all of not just the United States, but also North America. Among its fascinating facts, it’s home to the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. Additionally, it’s home to more than 2,000 species of plants and animals, and the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles co-exist.
Unfortunately, dozens of those plants and animals are threatened or endangered. Manmade draining and dredging is destroying the wetland, too. That’s where The Everglades Foundation comes in.
What is The Everglade Foundation?
For 29 years, this non-profit has focused on restoring Florida’s famous Everglades. It does so through science first and foremost, the findings of which it shares with local, state, and federal legislators to make sound decisions. The Everglades Foundation also leverages advocacy and education to restore the wetlands.
Ultimately, the goal is for the Everglades to have copious fresh water for drinking, enjoying, remaining ecologically healthy, and growing economically for generations to come.
Where are the Everglades?
Many people mistakenly believe the Everglades sit within Everglades National Park. While some of it does, the wetlands actually begin in Shingle Creek near Kissimmee.
The Everglades extend far south, past Lake Okeechobee, and toward the west into Florida Bay. For centuries water flowed from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, a 21,000-acre area, through the Kissimmee River and into Lake Okeechobee. Lake Okeechobee in turn would overflow south, with fresh water eventually heading farther south through the Everglades and into the bay. However, to spur agriculture, development, and flood control, state and local officials allowed dredging and draining the Everglades.
Science, Education & Advocacy
The Everglades Foundation, established in 1993 by two outdoors enthusiasts, is striving to restore that southerly water flow. Its particular focus on science has made it an authority among conservation and restoration supporters.
Did you know, for instance, that 9 million Floridians rely on the Everglades for drinking water? The foundation tracks this, plus how the Everglades aids flood control, prevents erosion, and more. Furthermore, its scientists say that restoration will help reestablish the Everglades’ natural carbon-sequestration abilities. This is a process in which carbon dioxide gets captured from the atmosphere and held, similar to how a sink holds water. The Everglades act as this natural sink, preventing the gas from causing the atmosphere to warm. Notably, The Everglades Foundation says that the communities around the Everglades and their economies are among the most vulnerable in America when it comes to climate change.
Education is another important cornerstone of the foundation, in more than one way.
- Firstly, it provides fellowships to graduate research students. With more than 2,000 species of plants and animals, nearly 80 of which are threatened or endangered, the Everglades sees detrimental impact from drainage and pollution. Students striving to pioneer scientific methods to better understand the region’s physical, chemical, or biological aspects receive the fellowships. Additionally, recipients include those researching environmental changes’ economic impacts.
- Speaking of students, the foundation is passionate about educating tomorrow’s leaders. It created the Everglades Literacy Program to provide teachers and homeschoolers with free materials and lesson plans. In fact, it has an online toolkit with 36 different lessons that meet the Florida State Board of Education standards. All of its teacher-training materials are STEM-based, of course.
- Plus, it has a program recognizing exceptional efforts by schools to impart Everglades knowledge. And, school kids can participate in science nights, field trips, and more.
Finally, the foundation is an active advocate among those influencing governmental decisions.
- In February, it urged state senators, successfully, to amend a bill that could have threatened a reservoir creation.
- The Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir, in development, will help control Lake Okeechobee water levels.
- Most recently, on May 24 the foundation thanked the Biden administration for saying it will expedite the EAA’s reservoir construction: “We have been waiting for over 22 years for this morning’s news out of Washington,” the foundation’s CEO, Eric Eikenberg, stated. He added that the reservoir is “the primary project needed to reduce harmful toxic discharges to the coastal estuaries while increasing the flows of clean fresh water south to the Everglades.”
The Everglades Foundation got its start nearly 30 years ago, thanks to just two people. It’s proof that small acts and steps consistently add up to pay big dividends.
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