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Why study the south Florida ecosystem?

South Florida is a unique but endangered ecosystem. Prior to significant human activity in the area (mid-1800's), south Florida constituted one of the largest wetlands in the continental United States. The Everglades, referred to by Marjory Stoneman Douglas as the 'River of Grass', historically encompassed an area of approximately 4,500 square miles.

Water moved through the system as a very broad slow moving 'river', flowing southward into Florida Bay. During this century, human activity and population in South Florida have grown rapidly. The Flagler Railroad was built just after the turn of the century and a series of canals has altered the flow of freshwater through the system.

In the last few decades, algal blooms, seagrass die-off, declining shellfish numbers, mercury buildup in the animals, contamination by pesticides, and the widespread invasion of exotic plants have occurred in the ecosystem. Scientists want to find out if these changes are due to natural changes in the system or if they were influenced by human development, or a combination of factors.

If scientists can determine what the ecosystem was like before significant human activity began in the region, then the land-managers responsible for the restoration can set realistic goals. In other words, these studies can help answer the questions 'what was the system like before the land was altered?' and 'what do we need to do to restore the system to its natural state?' In addition, these studies can determine what portion of the recent changes are due to natural causes, such as hurricanes or El NiƱo events, and thus can save tax-payer's money by preventing the 'correction' of a change brought about by natural events.

Learn more: Florida Ecosystems