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Science Insider NOV. 2018 | VOL 3 | ISSUE 1

In Memory of NATHANIEL P. REED By Steve Davis

The Role of Science at The Everglades Foundation By Tom Van Lent Lake Okeechobee — Past and Present By Melodie Naja and Paul Gray

T H E E V E R G L A D E S F O U N D A T I O N ' S $ 1 0 M I L L I O N G L O B A L W A T E R P R I Z E

B A R L E Y P R I Z E . O R G


Science Insider NOV. 2018 | VOL. 3 | NO. 1


In Memory of Nathaniel P. Reed




Lake Okeechobee — Past and Present

6 13

Letter from the Co-Editor

How Will Sea Level Rise Shape the Everglades?



Imperiled Animals

Imperiled Plants






2 4


Artists at Work in Contested Landscape

How Much

16 The Riddle of the Everglades’ Western Basins


18 22

Science Insider NOV. 2018 | VOL. 3 | NO. 1

THE EVERGLADES FOUNDATION 18001 Old Cutler Road | Suite 625 Palmetto Bay (Miami), FL 33157 305-251-0001


Katherine Caskey

Edyna Garcia

Monica Sanchez

Chief Executive Officer

Director of Leadership Giving

Marketing & Digital Media Specialist

Shannon Estenoz

Bianca Cassouto

Loren Parra

Director of Corporate and Foundation Giving

Chief Operating Officer / VP of Policy & Programs

Everglades Literacy Program Coordinator

Director of the George Barley Water Prize

Deborah Johnson

Jennifer Diaz

Sarah Perry

Director of Education

Associate Director of Development

Kim Dye

Keely Phillpotts

Director of Development Southwest Florida

Administrative Assistant

Director of Leadership Giving

Gloria Calle

Tina Fernandez

Director of Marketing & Communications

Development Assistant


Vice President of Development

Owen Baillie

Rebecca Rose Jeannie Rubio Administrative Assistant


Moni Spivey Development & Events Coordinator

Jessica Steinmiller Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Shannon Trivino Director of Administration

Dr. Kristie Wendelberger Outdoor Education & Outreach Coordinator


In Memory of

NATHANIEL P. REED W hen Nathaniel P. Reed died on July 11, planet Earth lost a conservation super hero and an ardent champion of science and the environment. As an original and long-standing member of the Everglades Foundation’s board of directors, Nathaniel was a cornerstone of our organization for 25 years. In my nine years with the Everglades Foundation, I had the pleasure of numerous one-on-one conversations with Nathaniel about restoring the Everglades as well as the status of wading birds and endangered species such as the Everglade snail kite. He was always brimming with passion, rich historical perspective, vivid stories and incredibly insightful questions. I was also the recipient of numerous hand-written memos, lengthy emails and phone calls from Nathaniel, wanting answers to questions on restoration projects, updates on wood stork nesting or my opinion on an agency report. Sometimes his calls were via satellite phone from a remote (often high latitude) location and involved questions about something that had been nagging him on the river that day. Admittedly, when I first started working at the Foundation, it was a bit intimidating. Over time, I learned exactly what Nathaniel wanted, and I could even anticipate some of his calls. He either wanted to know the basic facts — nothing superfluous — or he wanted me to follow a science-related issue and notify him of any changes in the various Everglades ecological indicators. [To him, the wading birds and other bearers of fin, fur and feather in the Everglades were not merely “indicators”, they were loved and thought of almost like progeny.] Looking back, our conversations made me a better scientist, and I believe they also made me a better communicator. Phone calls from Nathaniel always ended abruptly, almost as abruptly as the end of his life. “God bless” or

“Blessings,” he would always say before hanging up — hanging up before I could get out a single word in response. The fact is, I am blessed. Like many of you, I am blessed to have known Nathaniel and to have followed his lead on the conservation path he began forging before I was born. The Everglades Foundation can recover from this monumental loss. Thanks in large part to Nathaniel and other dedicated board members throughout our 25-year history, our foundation is solid, our mission is clear, and our future is bright. For all of us who knew Nathaniel, we will never be able to ignore his persistent and strong voice in the back of our heads, pressing us onward to finish the job of restoring America’s Everglades. Thank you for leading the way, Nathaniel. We miss you.

Steve Davis Senior Ecologist


Dr. Steve Davis

Dr. Rajendra Paudel

Dr. Ruscena Wiederholt

Vice President for Programs

Senior Ecologist

Senior Hydrologist

Quantitative Ecologist

Dr. Melodie Naja

Dr. Yogesh Khare

Dr. Andrew Stainback

Director of Science

Water Quality Scientist

Ecological Economist



The Role of Science at The Everglades Foundation By Tom Van Lent, Ph.D.


cience is a core value of The Everglades Foundation. The Foundation is committed to scientific research that adds to the body of knowledge about the Everglades, science that illuminates how to restore this ecosystem, as well as science that informs advocacy, law and policy. In short, science is the bedrock upon which The Everglades Foundation is built. Science does not refer to a particular body of knowledge; it is a process to systematically gather and organize information, verify it, and use that information to make predictions: the scientific method. And while “science” encompasses a long list of fields of research, the scientific disciplines that are the most use in Everglades restoration are a much smaller group. Biology and ecology are central to understanding the Everglades, as these vast wetlands were protected primarily because of biological grandeur (rather than the geologic impressiveness of parks in the Western states). Hydrology, or water science, is also critical to understanding both what went wrong in the Everglades and how it can be corrected. Chemistry in its myriad of branches, from biochemistry to water chemistry to soil chemistry, plays a key role in understanding the effects of pollution, as well as those processes that sustain food webs. The study of economics is also essential to predict the social impacts, both costs and benefits, of Everglades restoration and how people value these wetlands. Let’s not forget applied sciences, like engineering and computer science, that help convert basic science into real world actions. 2 | THE EVERGLADES FOUNDATION

The Everglades Foundations’s Senior Ecologist Steve Davis showing the tannin-colored freshwater coming out of the Everglades into Florida Bay. The Everglades Foundation, as a costconscious non-profit, has built a relatively small team of scientists with most of the requisite scientific disciplines. We accomplished this by recruiting scientists whose expertise spans multiple fields and who can collaborate as a team. The chief scientist, Dr. Melodie Naja, has a background in physical chemistry and chemical engineering. Dr. Stephen Davis is an expert in aquatic ecology and biogeochemistry. Dr. Rajendra Paudel is a hydrologist with an expertise in computer science. Dr. Yogesh Khare is an environmental engineer who also has an expertise in computer science. Dr. Andrew Stainback is an economist with an expertise in statistics. I am a hydrologist

The Everglades Foundation science team is focused on looking for solutions, solutions that are cost-effective, scientifically sound and practical. and civil engineer. Dr. Ruscena Wiederholt specializes in ecology and mathematics. To embody our commitment of educating our donors, policymakers, and community leaders about restoration and our work toward it, The Everglades Foundation hired our first development team scientist, Dr. Kristie Wendelberger, in 2016. Dr. Wendelberger has expertise in

The Everglades Foundation’s Science Team and Senior Administration (from left to right): Shannon Estenoz, Dr. Rajendra Paudel, Dr. Tom Van Lent, Dr. Steve Davis, Dr. Andrew Stainback, Dr. Melodie Naja, Eric Eikenberg, Dr. Ruscena Wiederholt, and Dr. Yogesh Khare.

The Everglades Foundation’s Quantitative Ecologist, Dr. Ruscena Wiederholt, viewing results of a model that predicts Florida Bay salinity under different restoration scenarios. Everglades plant and ecosystem ecology. Her main focus complements the work of the science team by bringing our leaders and decision makers on tours of the Everglades, communicating the science supporting Everglades restoration and how that science influences the policies moving restoration forward. One misconception is that most scientists work in a laboratory or spend their days in the field. Some Everglades Foundation scientists do. For example, Dr. Naja is

collaborating on a laboratory project to use nanoparticles to measure phosphorus concentrations at very low levels. Dr. Davis collaborates on a field project to look at the effects of saltwater inundation on Everglades soils. Dr. Wendelberger spends her time communicating science to the larger public on swamp walks and airboat rides. But most of the staff spend their time behind a computer, using complex models and sophisticated mathematics to make predictions about how the Everglades will

respond to different restoration options or is being affected by human actions. The Everglades Foundation science team is focused on looking for solutions, solutions that are cost-effective, scientifically sound and practical. The science team puts those solutions into the language of the science community and into the specific actions that government agencies can understand. Sometimes those government agencies welcome our input and critiques; sometimes they don’t. But this science team is the one group in Everglades restoration that has the capacity to analyze government proposals and claims no matter the topic. Our science team is dedicated to one question: What’s the best way to restore the Everglades, and thereby protect our water supply, preserve our environment and secure our economic future? SCIENCE INSIDER | 3


How Much Do Floridians Value Everglades Restoration? By Andrew Stainback, Ph.D.


hat is the value of wading birds in Everglades National Park to Florida residents? How about healthy fish habitat in Florida Bay? The Everglades is one of the world’s largest wetland ecosystems, covering almost 18,000 square miles from central Florida to Florida Bay. Its location is the transition between subtropical and tropical climatic zones, which makes it one of the world’s most unique natural areas. Over the 20th century, efforts to drain the Everglades severely damaged the ecosystem. Today, roughly 50% of the Everglades historic water flow has been diverted into canals and to the ocean instead of south, through Everglades National Park and into Florida Bay. Everglades restoration, as embodied by the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), is one of the largest ecological restoration efforts in the world. Restoration of the Everglades is expected to provide many benefits to


Floridians would derive benefits worth more than $1 billion annually with just a 10% improvement in these ecosystem attributes. Florida residents and visitors, such as supplying drinking water to 8 million people in southeast Florida, supporting tourism and habitat for commercially and recreationally important fish species. These benefits are easily understood and make measurable contributions to Florida’s economy. However, other benefits such as providing a home for wading birds or endangered species such as the Everglades snail kite, while important, are much harder to quantify. To help understand the value of such benefits, The Everglades Foundation, working with researchers from the University of Florida and Florida International University, administered

a survey to a sample of 2,100 Florida households to determine how they value some of the above benefits. Specifically, the survey asked people about how much they value ecosystem changes that are widely recognized as measures of the ecological health of the Everglades region: wading birds in Everglades National Park, American alligators in Everglades National Park, endangered Everglade snail kites in the greater Everglades ecosystem, spotted seatrout in Florida Bay and reduced discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries. Wading birds, such as wood storks, great egrets, and white ibis, were chosen because they are robust indicators of ecosystem health. Over the last century, wading bird populations have declined as much as 90%, partly due to the loss of suitable habitat and unnatural fluctuations in water levels. Alligators are also important to the health of the Everglades. Alligators form


Percent Improvement

Average Household Annual WTP

Statewide Aggregate Annual WTP*

Wading Birds


American Alligators




Everglade Snail Kite




Spotted Seatrout


Discharge Reduction





$276,255,821 $75.14


*WTP is the amount a household is willing to pay for a given improvement in an ecological indicator.

American Alligators

TOTAL VALUE OF EVERGLADES RESTORATION TO FLORIDA RESIDENTS Florida residents are willing to collectively pay over $730 million per year to see a 10% improvement in the populations of wading birds, snail kites, alligators and spotted seatrout in the Everglades National Park and over $610 million per year to reduce the discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries by 50%.

$132.8 million Snail Kite

$139.7 million

NOTE: Numbers are rounded.

important habitats for other species and help retain water in the landscape during the dry season by digging holes that act as refugia for themselves and other species. Everglade snail kites depend on apple snails for food and are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. They are found in central and southern Florida with an estimated population of less than 1,500 individuals. Spotted seatrout is a good indicator of the health of seagrass beds and the marine environment in Florida Bay. In especially wet periods, water is discharged from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and the Caloosahatchee Rivers. These polluted discharges can lead to toxic algae blooms, seagrass and oyster die-offs and negative consequences for property values and public health in nearby coastal communities. Everglades restoration will allow more water to be cleaned and then redirected south of Lake Okeechobee

Discharge Reduction

$610.5 million

Wading Birds

$190.3 million Spotted Seatrout

$276.2 million during wet periods instead of being discharged to the estuaries. The results of the survey reveal that Florida residents place substantial value on all the above-mentioned benefits of restoration, with the greatest value placed on reducing polluted water discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries. When the benefits are added together and aggregated over Florida’s more than 8 million households, it is clear that restoration would provide enormous benefits. Floridians would derive benefits worth more than $1.3 billion annually with just a 10% improvement in the populations of wildlife species included in the survey and a 50% reduction of harmful discharges. It is important to note that not all the benefits that would result from Everglades restoration were included in the survey; thus, the values from this survey are surely underestimated.

Over the last century wading bird populations have declined as much as 90% partly due to the loss of suitable habitat, insufficient water and unnatural fluctuations in water levels. Alligators help retain water in the dry season and create important aquatic habitat for numerous species by excavating “holes” in the landscape. Alligators are sensitive to water conditions that affect their food sources and ability to reproduce.

The Everglade Snail kites are endemic to the Everglades and are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Currently the population is estimated to be less than 2,000 individuals. Florida Bay spotted seatrout is one of the most important recreational fish species in Florida Bay and an indicator of the health of estuarine habitat such as seagrass. Florida Bay suffers periodic hyper-salinity events that can lead to seagrass die-offs and reduce the population of spotted seatrout in the Bay.



Lake Okeechobee — Past and Present By Melodie Naja, Ph.D. and Paul Gray, Ph.D. (Audubon Florida)


ake Okeechobee is a large, shallow body of water covering about 730 square miles. By area, it is the second largest freshwater lake within the continental USA. Representing the meeting of two large watersheds — the Kissimmee River watershed to the north and the Everglades watershed to the

In metric tons of TP load 1,100 1,000

south — Lake Okeechobee is critical to the hydrology of South Florida. This lake is remarkable, not only for its size and habitat it provides to fish and wildlife, but also for the extent to which it has been altered with the development of South Florida. Historically, the Everglades was the recipient of almost all outflows

from Lake Okeechobee. There was no connection between Lake Okeechobee and the Atlantic Ocean, and the lake’s connection to the Gulf of Mexico was limited and indirect. Early explorers described the lake as tannin-stained, but clear, with a sandy bottom. A well-developed sawgrass marsh

ANNUAL LONG-TERM PHOSPHORUS LOAD TO LAKE OKEECHOBEE - MAY TO APRIL (FIVE-YEAR MOVING AVERAGE)* Despite a long regulatory history, no reduction in total phosphorus (TP) loading to Lake Okeechobee has occurred since 1990. Thirty years have passed since the SWIM Act was passed by the legislature and not only did Florida miss the deadline of meeting the 140 mtons/year goal by 2015, it still hasn’t gotten down to the 1989 goal of 361 mtons.


The Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Act is created after several severe large blooms covered over 300 km2 of the lake.

An interim SWIM plan is completed by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) in cooperation with other agencies.

800 700 600

The earliest report of algae blooms was in 1970 and 1971.

After 1971, a shift in phytoplankton population from a green alga typical of early eutrophic lakes to a blue-green alga typical of eutrophic lakes is reported as well as a shift in environmental conditions in the lake.

The goal of 40% reduction in TP loading to be achieved by July 1992 is not met.




Governor Askew convened “The special project to prevent the eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee,” but total phosphorus (TP) concentrations in the lake continued to increase.



Years 1981-1984 data not applicable

100 0




* Includes an atmospheric load of 35 mtons total per year based on the Lake Okeechobee TMDL (FDEP 2001).




along the western and southern shores of the lake suggests that phosphorus levels were historically low. Water quality studies in the most pristine areas of the lake’s watershed and early investigations of the lake itself indicate phosphorus levels in the middle of the lake were in the range of 2040 parts per billion (ppb). To put this into a time-based context, one second out of an entire year (31,536,000 seconds) is roughly 30 ppb. HURRICANES’ IMPACT Major hurricanes caused the lake to overtop muck embankments in 1926 and 1928, causing over 2,500 deaths. As a result, the United States Army Corp of Engineers started building the Herbert Hoover Dike around the lake for flood protection. After the dike was constructed, lake levels

$ An important aspect of the SWIM plan is the dairy buy-out program during the period of 1989 to 1992.

were lowered by about 6 feet and have been subjected to regulation by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers ever since. The current Okeechobee watershed has been dramatically altered by agricultural and urban conversion with extensive drainage. Water now drains into the lake much more quickly and with less buffered flows. Today, Lake Okeechobee is polluted with phosphorus levels ranging from 100200 ppb and a mud bottom composed of silt and clay washed in from upstream development, mixed with dead algae from frequent blooms. When Lake Okeechobee reaches critically high levels, the infrastructure around the lake is designed to discharge excess water to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, impacting those ecosystems with muddy, nutrient-laden fresh water. The southern

Lake Okeechobee Protection Act (LOPA) is passed, directing the state agencies to re-evaluate the phosphorus total maximum daily load (TMDL) and implement a program to restore and protect Lake Okeechobee by 2015.

four outlets have a peak capacity of only 6,000 cubic feet per second of water movement whereas the total discharge capacity to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie is around 16,000 cubic feet per second. Therefore, much more of the overflow from the lake goes into the rivers than filters south through the Everglades. POOR WATER QUALITY The earliest detailed water quality studies of the lake are from 1969 and were made in response to complaints the lake was showing signs of nutrient pollution. At this time, phosphorus levels in the middle of the lake were about 40 ppb but indications of pollution were evident.1 The earliest reports of algae blooms on CONTINUED ON PAGE 8

With no decrease in TP levels, the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program (NEEPP) is passed, promoting a more comprehensive watershed approach to protecting Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries.

LOPA Covered Areas

NEEP Covered Areas

With TP levels still not decreasing, Florida Department of Environmental Protection adopted a Basin Management Action Plan committing to a phased approach for 42% TP reduction during the first 10 years, with no long-term strategy.


Everglades National Park




1 Joyner, B. F. 1974. Chemical and biological conditions of Lake Okeechobee, Florida 1969–72. Report of Investigations 71 Florida Bureau of Geology, Tallahassee, Florida, USA.




SOURCE: 2018 South Florida Environmental Report – Volume1


Blue-green algae along the shore of Lake Okeechobee.

Palm Beach Post’s September 1971 front page article. All Rights Reserved. FROM PAGE 7

the lake were in 1970 and 1971, which marked a transition from phytoplankton communities dominated by green algae to those dominated by blue-green algae. In response, Governor Reubin Askew convened “The special project to prevent the eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee” in 1974 but phosphorus concentrations in the lake continued to increase, nearly doubling from the late 1970s to the early 80s. LEGISLATURE’S FIRST ACTION In 1987, after several widespread algal blooms covered more than 115 square miles of the Lake’s surface, the Florida Legislature created the Surface Water Improvement


and Management (SWIM) Act to protect, restore and maintain Florida’s highly threatened surface water bodies. Under this act, Lake Okeechobee was designated a priority water body, and an interim SWIM plan for Lake Okeechobee was completed in 1989 by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), in cooperation with Florida Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies. The goal was a 40% reduction in phosphorus contamination by July 1992. As part of the plan, the average annual amount of phosphorus draining into the lake was not to exceed 361 metric tons. This plan relied on 15 years of data collection, field studies and modeling efforts, and when the goal was not met in 1992, it was extended. An important aspect of the SWIM plan was the dairy buyout program, offering owners of dairy cows $602 per cow in exchange for moving operations out of the Lake Okeechobee basin from 1989 to 1992. That part of the plan decreased phosphorus levels from the dairy “basin” from around 1,000 ppb to about 500 ppb. OTHER MEASURES In response to continued pollution, the Florida Legislature passed the Lake Okeechobee Protection Act (LOPA) in 2000, directing the SFWMD and other agencies to re-evaluate the phosphorus

Tampa Bay Times’ July 11, 2018. total maximum daily load (TMDL) and implement a comprehensive program to restore and protect Lake Okeechobee and its downstream waters by 2015. In 2007, with phosphorus levels still not decreasing, the Florida legislature passed the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program (NEEPP), promoting a more comprehensive watershed approach to protecting Lake Okeechobee, as well as the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie. The NEEPP required development of a detailed technical plan for Phase II of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed

These two facing satellite images are from May 25, 1978 (on the left) and June 20, 2018 (on the right), showing the spread of algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee — nothing much has changed over the past 40 years. Construction Project by February 2008. In December 2014, after little to no progress, FDEP adopted a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), committing to a phased approach for the implementation of strategies to achieve 42% phosphorus reduction during the first 10 years, with no long-term strategy. NO TP LOADING REDUCTION Despite this long regulatory history, no reduction in phosphorus being dumped into the Lake has occurred since 1990. Not only did Florida fail to reach the 140 metric tons/year goal by 2015, we have yet to meet the 1989 goal of 361 metric tons! Though many plans to meet the Lake Okeechobee phosphorus total maximum daily load have come and gone, the 5-year average phosphorus loadings in 2017 are similar to the levels in 1985 and 3.8 times higher than goal levels, with no signs of decrease. There is simply a lack of political will to fix the lake’s problems. The first draft of the Lake Okeechobee Protection Plan estimated it might cost about $1.5 billion (present value) to fix the watershed’s pollution problem, but since 2000, the state has spent $200 to $300

Despite a long regulatory history, no reduction in phosphorus being dumped into the Lake has occurred since 1990. Not only did Florida fail to reach the 140 metric tons/ year goal by 2015, we have yet to meet the 1989 goal of 361 metric tons. million on it, far less than needed. The 2019 basin plan update is required to develop a plan to meet the lake’s desired phosphorus levels within 15 years. A realistic estimate of the long-term total costs for reaching Lake Okeechobee’s daily deposits of phosphorus needs to be developed, discussed, documented and presented to the legislature. This should include an evaluation of the return on investment by quantifying the value of ecosystem services that a restored watershed would bring to the economy. Everglades restoration relies on additional water from Lake Okeechobee and the more

polluted the lake is, the more expensive Everglades restoration will be. THE BARLEY PRIZE The Everglades Foundation’s George Barley Water Prize is incentivizing research to find technological breakthroughs that can cost-effectively reduce large-scale phosphorus pollution from the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee. In May 2020, the top 4 teams will be stationed on Lake Jesup in direct competition with one another to test the effectiveness and costefficiency of their technologies. Despite the nutrient pollution problem, the presence of harmful algae blooms, and excessively high and low water levels, Lake Okeechobee still shows a high level of resilience. A healthy lake can support record largemouth bass and crappie fisheries, thousands of wading bird nests, nesting habitat for the endangered Everglade snail kite and wintering habitat for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and other migratory birds. Reducing the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Okeechobee will ensure a healthy lake for wildlife, the Greater Everglades Ecosystem and South Florida’s water supply.



What Climate Change Means for South Florida’s Water Resources and Everglades Restoration By Rajendra Paudel, Ph.D.



The IPCC reported in 2013 that climate change will likely increase average surface temperatures as well as the magnitude, frequency, and duration of extreme weather events such as storm and droughts. A rise in surface temperature will increase the rate of evaporation from land and water to the atmosphere. As temperatures increase, the rate that plants release water into the air will also go up. As a result, irrigated farmlands and the Everglades will require more water. In South Florida, greater than 25 percent more water will be needed during the next half-century. Rainfall alone is unlikely to compensate for this lost water and increased demand. Further, as temperatures increase, the rate at which plants transpire water into the air will go up.

ould a little less rainfall each year or warmer temperatures impact South Florida and the Everglades? Should we be concerned? These are important questions that scientists are trying to address for many areas across the globe. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international body for the assessment of climate change, has said that global water resources are under increasing stress due to climate change. South Florida is among the most vulnerable regions in the United States, due to a large human population and a fragile Everglades ecosystem located on flat, low-lying and porous terrain. The predicted changes are likely to have a profound negative impact on the freshwater supply that is crucial to sustaining both the human and natural systems that we currently enjoy. Unfortunately, the detrimental effects of climate change in South Florida will likely be compounded by rapid population growth and development. It is therefore critical to improve our understanding what the specific effects of climate change will be in South Florida and incorporate this information into our plans for restoration.


EXTREME EVENTS Climate change in South Florida is also likely to result in warmer temperatures and shifts in seasonal rainfall patterns. These changes will then contribute to an increase in the frequency and severity of both droughts and heavy rainfall events. South Florida has always been impacted by droughts and heavy rainfall, but because of its warm climate, these impacts are likely to increase substantially. Heavy rainfall can stress the capacity of drainage systems and cause flooding, while prolonged droughts can reduce the availability of water for human use and the Everglades. These changes can shrink and degrade aquatic ecosystems. Finally, increased fire and soil oxidation due to severe droughts will likely reduce ridge and slough habitats, critical for the wildlife found in the Everglades.

SEA LEVEL RISE When it comes to sea level rise, South Florida has good reason to be concerned. According to the Unified Sea Level Rise Projection Southeast Florida report, sea level rise along South Florida’s coastline is projected to be from 31 to 81 inches by 2100. This amount of sea level rise could easily push sea water inland and flood coastal areas more frequently and for longer periods of time. The Biscayne Aquifer, which consists of highly permeable limestone rock and provides fresh drinking water to the 8 million residents of South Florida, lies at shallow depths making it particularly prone to saltwater intrusion. Finally, as sea levels rise, saltwater will infiltrate into aquifers and canals pushing freshwater further inland, potentially changing the distribution of habitats in the Everglades and further reducing the supply of freshwater for people.

IMPLICATIONS The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a multibillion dollar project authorized to “restore, preserve, and protect the South Florida ecosystem, while providing for other waterrelated needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection,” was planned with a much more limited understanding of climate change than we have today. CERP was based on the concept of climate “stationarity,” which assumes the climate will not change appreciably in the future. We now know that this is not a realistic or safe assumption. Current Everglades restoration plans, therefore, are likely inadequate for future conditions. As Everglades restoration continues to advance over the next few decades, the success of restoration and management efforts will increasingly depend on incorporating understanding of climate change into future planning, implementation and operation of projects.




Contemporary Artists at Work in a Contested Landscape ARTIST: Clyde Butcher


ilderness, to me, is a spiritual necessity. When my son was killed by a drunken driver, it was to the wilderness that I fled in hopes of regaining my serenity and equilibrium. The mysterious spiritual experience of being close to nature helped restore my soul. It was during that time I discovered the intimate beauty of the environment. My experience reinforced my sense of dedication to use my art form, photography, to show people that there is a unity between all undisturbed natural places, whether a peak of a renowned mountain range or a streambed in an urban watershed. My hope is to educate... to let people know our land is a special place and to inspire others to work together to save nature’s places of spiritual sanctuary for future generations.

Gator Hook 1, Big Cypress National Preserve ©2009. 12 | THE EVERGLADES FOUNDATION

Ochopee, Big Cypress National Preserve ©1986.

Tamiami Trail 12, by Clyde Butcher.

ARTIST: Deborah Mitchell


s a curious Artist in Residence at Big Cypress National Preserve in 2007, I sought panthers and ghost orchids in the back country, living with a knowledgeable archivist in the heart of the wetlands. Fast forward 11 years and curiously, I am doing the same thing (minus the roommate), for ten multidisciplinary artists per year, this time highlighting the entire Everglades watershed area. The purpose of the Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE) is to inform, connect and support artists, writers and musicians who wish to be ambassadors for the Everglades by providing month-long residencies in Everglades National Park. Calvary Cabin, 2017, by Deborah Mitchell. Photo courtesy of the artist

Water Conservation Area 3A, 2017, by Deborah Mitchell. Photo courtesy of the artist




(Left) Blooming World, watercolor on paper, 2016, by Elisabeth Condon. Photo courtesy of Airie

(Right) Swamp Study IV, Mangrove Periphyton, watercolor on paper, 2016, Elisabeth Condon. Photo courtesy of the artist.

American painter Elisabeth Condon’s work expertly combines disparate paint applications and materials to re-interpret landscapes for a world saturated with information.

Send it South, video still, 2018, by Jason Hedges. Photo courtesy of the artist

Avid local outdoorsman Jason Hedges’ work explores the controversial role the sugar industry plays in the flow of water in the Everglades. Send it South has become the mantra for numerous environmental groups advocating for restoration of the historical flow of the greater Everglades ecosystem south from Lake Okeechobee through the river of grass into Florida Bay.

Snakemask, 2014, by Dana Levy. Photo courtesy of Airie

Retired biologist Skip Snow, seen here photographed by Israeli artist Dana Levy while holding a python skin, has advised AIRIE artists in the field since 2014. Snow has worked on the front lines of wildlife management for over 38 years.



John Marshall Intern Reflects on Her Experience with The Everglades Foundation


nlike the other John Marshall interns, I didn’t have to travel far for this summer’s adventure at The Everglades Foundation — I was born and raised right here in Miami! Despite growing up with the Everglades so close, I had very little knowledge about them, but I did have a passion for environmentalism and conservation. I am studying public relations and ecosystem science and policy at the University of Miami, because communicating the importance of conservation to the rest of the world is my dream. Still, I was nervous about meeting new people and the fact that I really didn’t know much about the Everglades. Our very first airboat ride sparked the love I now have for the Everglades. Looking out into that serene landscape, listening to the snail kite calls and seeing alligators’ eyes just float above the water, it was like I’d be transported to a different universe. I can’t believe that all the time I’ve lived in South Florida that I haven’t taken the time to explore my own backyard and appreciate the natural treasure there. Did you know that the Everglades serves as the water source to over 8 million Floridians? I didn’t. I knew the Everglades was important, but not the extent to which we depend on it for survival. This is an ecosystem that we must save, and we cannot do it alone. Working at the Foundation this summer, I learned just how complex Everglades restoration is and the range of stakeholders involved. And I learned that it’s going to take all of those people and institutions to achieve restoration goals. Being a John Marshall Intern at The Everglades Foundation made me realize we need to protect this unique and important place. A big part of that is making people understand just how unique and important it is. To that end, part of my internship involved working on this edition of Science Insider. Welcome! I hope you enjoy reading it half as much as I did working on it.

Isabella Di Giglio John Marshall Everglades Intern

For more information about the Internship Program and John Marshall’s legacy, please visit www.evergladesfoundation.org



IMPERILED ANIMALS in the Greater Everglades By Ruscena Wiederholt, Ph.D.


lorida, home to numerous charismatic animal species like the Florida manatee and American crocodile, also has a less honorable distinction: it has one of the highest numbers of federally endangered and threatened species in the U.S. In fact, it has the fourth highest number of imperiled species per state, falling below only Hawaii, California and Alabama. Likewise, the greater Everglades ecosystem contains one of the highest concentrations of species vulnerable to extinction in the U.S. This diverse ecosystem in southern Florida is home to 78 endangered and threatened animal and plant species. Many of these species, like the Everglade snail kite, are emblematic of the Everglades ecosystem. Drainage and loss of habitat are two main factors threatening species in the Everglades ecosystem. Here we discuss the stories of a few imperiled species found in the greater Everglades. FLORIDA PANTHER The Florida panther is the only subspecies of mountain lion still surviving in the eastern United States. They once roamed the southeastern U.S. and interbred with other mountain lion populations. By the early 1970s, the panther population declined to about 12 to 20 individuals due to hunting and habitat loss. To make matters worse, their small population size and isolation from other mountain lion populations resulted in inbreeding, negatively affecting their survival, reproductive rates, and overall health. In 1995, to combat this problem, 8 female


panthers from Texas were released into the Florida population. These females had at least 20 kittens, which helped increase the genetic diversity of the Florida panthers. Twenty years later, the population has increased to an estimated 230 individuals. In 2016, there was another positive sign — the first female panther (along with her 2 kittens) in 43 years was found north of the Caloosahatchee River. Despite this progress, the Florida panther remains an endangered species and continues to face threats from development, habitat loss, fragmentation, and vehicular collisions. Today, panthers

occupy less than 5% of their historic range in South Florida, predominately south of the Caloosahatchee River.

Florida has the fourth highest number of federally endangered and threatened species in the U.S, falling below only Hawaii, California and Alabama. Many of these species, like the Everglade snail kite, are emblematic of the Everglades ecosystem.

EVERGLADE SNAIL KITE The Everglade snail kite is an iconic bird of prey found in Central and South Florida, Cuba and Northwest Honduras wetlands. As their name suggests, snail kites feed almost exclusively on apple snails. Snail kites soar over sparsely vegetated marsh and lake shores hunting for snails. If snails are close enough to the surface, they plunge down and grab them with their talons. Their slender, curved bills allow them to extract the snails from their shells. While eggs and chicks can be preyed upon by rats, birds, raccoons, and snakes, once snail kites are adults, they have no natural predators and can live up to 25

years. Everglade snail kites suffered steep populations declines in the early and mid1990s because much of its wetland habitat had been drained. Both extended periods of flooding and long-term droughts over extensive areas can be detrimental for snail kites. Water quality in snail kite habitat also declined, which can hamper their ability to hunt. The Everglade snail kite remains endangered with a current population of fewer than 2,500 individuals. LEATHERBACK SEA TURTLE Named for their rubber y shell, leatherback sea turtles are the largest of Florida’s sea turtles. In fact, they’re one of the biggest reptiles in the world! Normally, they can reach up to 6 feet in length and weight about 1,500 pounds, but the most sizeable leatherback ever found was nearly 10 feet long and weighed more than 2,000 pounds! Leatherbacks are found throughout the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and in Florida they inhabit coastal waters, mainly on the Atlantic coast. They nest on tropical and subtropical beaches and migrate to higher latitudes to forage. They can migrate impressive distances — females that nested on the coast of French Guiana were found as far north as Newfoundland. The record migrations for a leatherback was 6,835 miles! Unfortunately, leatherbacks are endangered; the threats to these sea turtles include hunting, egg collection, habitat loss and incidental take from commercial fishing. Sea turtles can become entangled in fishing lines, and since they need to surface to breathe, they can drown once caught. They feed primarily on jellyfish, and they sometimes mistake balloons and plastic bags floating in the water for jellyfish and eat them, which can obviously kill them. Right now, we estimate that between 34,000 and 36,000 nesting females live worldwide.




in the Greater Everglades By Kristie Wendelberger, Ph.D.


hat makes a species federally endangered or threatened? The simple answer is that it is listed as such by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Species get listed by the USFWS because they are in threat of extinction from habitat loss, changes in their habitat that make it no longer suitable for the species to survive there, over-collecting (think orchids!), and, in Florida’s case, sea level rise. Because of Florida’s unique geological development, there are over 240 species of plants that are native only to Florida, and more than 50 species in the Everglades ecosystem are listed as either federally threatened or endangered. Drainage, dikes, canals, and development have altered the Everglades wetlands to a point that these species are in threat of extinction. Luckily, CERP (the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan) answers the call to action that ESA requires, bringing together federal and state agencies to help these species. Below are three plant species unique to the Everglades ecosystem that are federally threatened or endangered. CAPE SABLE THOROUGHWORT Native to Florida, the Cape Sable thoroughwort is a fragrant herb in the sunflower family. This species’ range extends from coastal Everglades National Park (ENP) south into the Florida Keys, and it is found in coastal rock barrens, rockland hammocks, coastal swamps, and buttonwood forest. Cape Sable thoroughwort is threatened by development and sea level rise, and


Cape Sable thoroughwort

Photo by Dr Kristie Wendelberger

the species was designated as federally endangered by the USFWS on November 25, 2013. Though the largest remaining populations of the species are found along the coast of Everglades National Park, in locations hit by both Hurricanes Wilma in 2015 and Irma in 2017, the populations are thriving and responding well to the storm disturbances. However, recent work suggests that the coastal buttonwood habitat in the national park is threatened by sea level rise, leaving future prospects for this species in question.

Plants and animals in the greater Everglades ecosystem are subject to many intersecting factors that put them in harm’s way. Large-scale changes in the water

There are over 240 species of plants that are native only to Florida, and more than 50 species in the Everglades ecosystem are listed as either federally threatened or endangered.

lake had been converted to agriculture. Habitat conversion and regulation of Lake Okeechobee’s water level contributed to the loss and decline of Okeechobee gourd habitat to the point that the gourd was listed as endangered by the USFWS on July 12, 1993. Today, the gourd is restricted to one population along the St. Johns River and another around Lake Okeechobee’s shoreline. Water regulation and invasive species continue to jeopardize the survival of this species. This species needs a range of water stages for proper reproduction. High water levels help with dispersal and low water levels allow the seeds to germinate and seedlings to establish and grow. Because management of Okeechobee gourd intersects Lake Okeechobee management for water supply and flood control, a management plan beneficial to the Okeechobee gourd is not being prioritized. TINY POLYGALA Tiny polygala

Photo by Keith A. Bradley

systems, habitat destruction, invasive species and sea level rise all threaten species in South Florida. The good news is we can change a number of these influencing factors. Everglades restoration will rehydrate wetlands, improve water quality, potentially reduce the expansion of invasive species and slow the effects of sea level rise. Restoring the Everglades will benefit the endangered plants and animals in South Florida and Everglades ecology as a whole. OKEECHOBEE GOURD

Okeechobee gourd

Photo from of Atlas of Florida Plants Institute for Systematic Botany

An extensive pond apple forest once existed along the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee and provided habitat for the Okeechobee gourd, a perennial vine related to the cucumber. By the 1930s, 95% of the pond apple forest south of the

Tiny polygala is a small, short-lived herb in the milkwort family, native to the Atlantic Coastal Ridge of southeast Florida. This species is found in Pine Rocklands, scrub, high pine and coastal spoil habitats, all dependent on fire to maintain healthy ecological conditions. These habitats were also found in higher elevation areas (10-20 feet above sea level) that, combined with drainage efforts that further dried the land, were prime for development as people settled in South Florida. Today, less than 2% of the Pine Rockland habitat necessary to support the tiny polygala exists. Remaining populations of tiny polygala are mostly found in protected areas; however, fire suppression and invasive species continue to threaten this rare plant. Tiny polygala responds favorably to fire; therefore, management of the species depends on proper fire management of remaining habitat.



How Will Sea Level Rise Shape the Everglades? By Steve Davis, Ph.D.


or those of us living along the lower east coast of Florida, the Everglades is a backyard wilderness, the source of our drinking water and an important hurricane buffer. It is also a flat, lowlying wetland with an imperceptible slope, making it quite vulnerable to sealevel rise. Once a 50-mile-wide “River of Grass” extending from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, the Everglades is now divided by canals and levees into units we know as Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and the Water Conservation Areas. Now half its original size, the remaining Everglades ecosystem still encompasses more than 2.5 million acres and consists of a variety of habitats that are adapted to extremely low nutrient levels and a range of flooding conditions by either freshwater or saltwater. Scientists have been investigating what is likely to happen to the Everglades when those flooding patterns are altered by rapid rates of sea-level rise. Many people assume that as sea level rises mangroves will gradually migrate landward, replacing freshwater sawgrass near the coast. This landward migration of mangroves and other coastal habitats is well documented, and there is strong evidence that this process has been exacerbated further by water management activities, which reduce freshwater flow from the Everglades to the coast. It doesn’t take a scientist to see the effects. Anyone who drives to Flamingo or Key Largo can observe how far the mangroves have advanced inland over the last few decades. Given that mangroves provide valuable coastal wetland habitat, trading sawgrass


An aerial view and close-up of peat collapse in the Everglades. Photos by Steve Davis

for mangroves may not be such a bad thing, right? Unfortunately, it is not that simple. The interaction of water, salinity and plants can dramatically affect the integrity and elevation of the soil that supports these habitats. In freshwater sawgrass marshes and salty mangroves of the Everglades, organic soils (called peat soils) develop under persistent

flooding. Peat soils are comprised of plant matter that accumulates faster than it decomposes, forming a blanket of sorts on top of South Florida’s porous limestone bedrock. In the deepest freshwater marshes, peat soils average 2 to 3 feet in thickness. In Everglades mangroves, peat soil thickness can exceed 10 feet. When we

Current Conditions

Sawgrass marsh builds peat soil on top of the limestone only in freshwater areas. Mangroves develop peat soil in saline and brackish conditions.












Saltwater Intrusion SAWGRASS DIEBACK




Peat Collapse

Freshwater peat collapses and the water is too deep for plants to become established. Mangroves established elsewhere help to re-stabilize soil.



Intrusion of saltwater causes sawgrass dieback and mangrove expansion. Freshwater peat soil begins to degrade with exposure to saltwater.








deprive marshes of freshwater, peat soils break down, resulting in soil loss. In fact, it has been estimated that some marshes in the park have lost as much as 3 feet of soil elevation in the era of water management. A more complicated and destructive outcome results when freshwater marshes, which are already receiving less freshwater, are increasingly exposed to saltwater before mangroves become established. An example of this is Cape Sable, the landmass at the southwestern-most tip of Florida. In the 1920s, canals were dug into Cape Sable to drain the freshwater marshes but instead facilitated saltwater intrusion. By the time aerial photography became widely available in the 1930s and

40s, much of this freshwater marsh had disappeared, converting to open water rather than a mangrove forest. Through science, we are learning that a “perfect storm” of sea-level rise, low freshwater flow (because of water management) and saltwater intrusion can cause peat soil to disappear faster than it can accumulate — transforming an affected area to open water, not to mangrove forest. In the Everglades, collapsed areas appear as large puddles in the landscape surrounded by vegetation. Over time, collapsed areas of marsh coalesce into larger areas, releasing nutrients once sequestered in the peat soil into the environment where they wreak havoc in

the Everglades and coastal waters such as Florida Bay or Biscayne Bay. Peat soil is to the Everglades as sediments and coastal marshes are to the Louisiana Delta, and loss of peat soil can result in the loss of land. When such drastic ecological changes occur so rapidly, it is difficult to predict what chain of events will follow. However, we know that we are accelerating peat collapse and shaping the future coastline of the Everglades under the current system of water management. Until we restore the flow of freshwater to Everglades National Park, we are short-circuiting the natural transition to mangroves and possibly increasing South Florida’s future coastal vulnerability.



Western Basins: A Riddle in the Everglades Restoration By Yogesh Khare, Ph.D.


he Everglades ecosystem is the largest subtropical wetland in North America. During the last century, large-scale ecosystem drying deteriorated this UNESCO World Heritage site to the brink of collapse. While a number of conservation and restoration programs are being implemented, most of the focus has been on the Central Everglades — the part of Everglades that includes Water Conservation Area 3 (WCA-3) and Everglades National Park (see map on next page). We tend to forget that the Central Everglades is connected to other parts of the greater Everglades ecosystem through water, nutrient flows and wildlife movements. The Western Everglades, which includes Big Cypress National Preserve (BCNP), is one such area. The Western Everglades is composed of several basins (Feeder Canal, L28 basins, etc.) that flow water into the Central Everglades. Though there is a strong connection between the Western and Central Everglades, the Western Everglades has received relatively little attention in the restoration process. Nonetheless, the Western Basins are of particular interest from a restoration point of view. The Feeder Canal and L28 basins (red areas in map) discharge water and nutrients into WCA-3A. Records indicate that, during the last 10 years, the Feeder Canal basin annually discharged runoff to WCA3A with average phosphorus concentrations of 89 parts per billion (ppb), which is more than 9 times the level needed to protect Everglades marsh habitat. This equates to a load of about 6.6 metric tons of phosphorus per year


The Western Basin section of the Everglades, looking south down the North Feeder Canal toward Big Cypress National Preserve. Photo by Steve Davis from 68,000 acres of predominantly agricultural (pasture) land. Additionally, the L28 basin contributed an average of 6.7 metric tons of phosphorus per year to WCA3A. This phosphorus input from the two basins was the highest among all to WCA3A and accounted for more than 40% of the total phosphorus that was sent to WCA3A. The high phosphorus concentrations near the discharge locations in WCA3A have led to local ecosystem degradation including the loss of sawgrass marsh and spread of cattail. Since the late 1990s, water quality improvement plans have been formulated

and updated by state agencies for the Western Basins in an attempt to improve conditions. These plans are focused on implementation of agricultural conservation practices and updated water permitting programs. Under these programs, McDaniel Ranch (now known as Garcia Farms) — a sub-basin of the Feeder Canal basin — is required to achieve phosphorus concentration of 50 ppb, which they have not yet done. Lack of flow and water quality monitoring, inadequate understanding of hydrology and insufficient information on farmer participation in conservation practices




are often presented as major reasons behind failure of any longterm water quality improvement plan in the Western Basins. The Western Everglades Restoration Project (WERP) — a recent Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) planning effort involving state and federal agencies — has given a new hope for water quality improvements in the Western Basins. The Everglades Foundation science team has modeled the Western Basins from 2000 to 2010 to assess the potential impact of agricultural conservation practices and regional projects. The geographic location of the Western Basins is a major challenge for any restoration plan formulation. Areas north of the Western Basins are mainly used for private agriculture operations, while lands south of Western Basins are part of Big Cypress National Preserve and in an undisturbed natural state. The Feeder Canal and L28 basins have many small landowners along with the presence of the Seminole Indian and Miccosukee Indian Tribes of Florida reservations, a number of small conservation easements and wildlife corridors. Striking a good balance between individual stakeholders’ priorities and conservation needs is the crux of the riddle to restoring the Western Basins.

Big Cypress National Preserve’s landscape is covered with numerous cypress domes. Photo by Steve Davis

Lake Okeechobee



Everglades Agricultural Area and Stormwater Treatment Areas

C139 Basin


C139 Annexure Basin

FC Basin

L128 Basin


COLLIER Big Cypress National Preserve

S190 S140



Gulf of Mexico




LEGEND Seminole Indian Reservation

Everglades National Park

Miccosukee Indian Reservation WERP Project Area Florida Bay

Key West

Atlantic Ocean



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Maurice R. Ferré, M.D.

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