Saving the Everglades, one pound at a time.
- Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author, activist, and “The Mother of the Everglades”
The Everglades has a rich cultural and natural history that spans centuries. It’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve, and Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. Its global significance is on par with other UNESCO sites like the Great Barrier Reef, Grand Canyon, and the Serengeti Plains.
This vast expanse of subtropical wetlands is made up of eight different ecosystems and is a valuable source of drinking water for millions of Floridians. Despite its significance, the Everglades has been dredged, diked, and drained to make way for agricultural and urban development, which has severely impacted water quality throughout the state of Florida. In addition to development, microplastic pollution, nutrient pollution, invasive species, and sea level rise are having a cumulative effect that threatens the future of this historic ecosystem.
While restoration projects have been planned and even partially funded, decades of mismanagement, opposing political interests, and corporate greed have brought progress to a standstill. The issue of Everglades restoration has not been treated with the urgency it calls for and its degradation continues to this day.
Protecting and preserving the Everglades is not just an issue for Floridians. If we allow this to happen at one UNESCO site, we have to wonder whether it can happen to others. The push to restore the Everglades is the largest ecosystem restoration project in history. How we handle these challenges will set a global standard that dictates how we care for and prioritize all of our natural cultural sites.
While some people casually dismiss it as a dismal swamp, nothing could be further from the truth. The Everglades is not a swamp, but an extremely wide, shallow, slow-moving river that historically spanned two-thirds of Florida from the Kissimmee River to Florida Bay.
Nicknamed “The River of Grass,” the Everglades now starts in the liquid heart of Florida at Lake Okeechobee and trickles southward through ethereal cypress swamps, placid wet prairies, sheltering sawgrass marsh, and dense mangrove forests until it reaches Everglades National Park and eventually Florida Bay.
This incredibly intricate and well-balanced ecosystem formed over thousands of years. In its pristine state, you’d find enormous populations of wading birds like egrets, herons, and wood storks. Animals that are now critically endangered roamed freely, including the iconic Florida panther. It was and still is the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles naturally coexist. To this day, the Everglades is internationally renowned for its extraordinary wildlife.
The Everglades was first settled by indigenous tribes who learned to live in harmony with this untamed wilderness and the abundant natural life that called it home. Unfortunately, the example they set as stewards of this natural treasure has not been followed in modern times.
The Everglades originally spanned around 2.56 million acres from the Kissimmee River to Florida Bay. In the early 1800s, settlers, prospectors, and land developers started making plans to drain the Everglades so they could use its nutrient-rich soil as farmland.
By the early 1900s, dikes and canals had been built to block and divert water flow to Florida’s coasts for this purpose. Large tracts of land had been converted to agriculture, which instigated South Florida’s first of many land booms. The area became even more accessible to people after Henry Flagler built a railroad down the Florida peninsula.
Cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Fort Myers drew visitors and new residents alike, increasing demand for more useable land. More native habitat was displaced by new canals, roads, and buildings.
To provide flood protection and potable water to a growing population, Congress authorized the US Army Corps of Engineers to build a system of roads, canals, levees, and water-control structures throughout South Florida in 1948. While this was also intended to preserve the Everglades, altering the wetlands also altered the historic flow of water through the Everglades and caused significant damage to the entire ecosystem.
Today, the Everglades receives less than one-third of its historic water flow. A source of fresh water for nearly 8.1 million people, it’s now contaminated by fertilizer and other agricultural and industrial runoff. Half of South Florida’s wetland areas no longer exist.
Microplastic debris associated with runoff from urban areas has been found in sand samples, including those taken from Everglades National Park. Entire animal populations are in danger of disappearing. Populations of wading birds have been reduced by about 90%. Exotic and invasive species have taken over natural areas. The loss of seagrass beds in Florida Bay have led to additional wildlife loss in and around Florida.
A plan to restore the Everglades has been in place since 2000 when Congress authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). Additional projects and funding have been approved since then, but decades of mismanagement, opposing political interests, and corporate greed have prevented meaningful action from being taken — until now.
In the last couple years, we’ve made more progress toward restoration than ever before. We’ll continue to make progress as long as we continue to make people aware of the Everglades issue and, in one voice, demand change and accountability from policymakers at every level. Successful restoration in the Everglades can ultimately become a model for saving other endangered wetlands around the world.
Released in partnership with Captains For Clean Water (CFCW), our Everglades Bracelet helps raise awareness about the threats facing this unique ecosystem and the need for immediate action to protect and preserve it for future generations.
We’re also donating $25,000 to CFCW to support their mission of restoring the Everglades through advocacy, education, and policy change at the state and federal levels. Our donation will help fund crucial education and advocacy programs.
Captains For Clean Water is a nonprofit organization advocating for clean water and healthy estuaries. Their mission is founded on 3 pillars: educate on the issues facing Florida’s estuaries and Everglades, unite stakeholders by finding common ground to fight for clean water, and advocate for long-term, science-based solutions to the man-made water crisis in South Florida.
Captains For Clean Water started as a grassroots movement of fishing captains who experienced the destruction of the Everglades firsthand over many years. CFCW is on the frontlines of a movement that has helped secure the largest amount of funding for Everglades restoration ever on both the state and federal levels.
Their commitment to moving the needle forward has been a hallmark of the organization, which has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the citizens of Florida as well as politicians on both sides of the aisle to create positive change for this endangered ecosystem and all the creatures that call it home.
By purchasing an Everglades Bracelet, you’ll remove one pound of trash from the ocean and coastlines while raising awareness about the importance of Everglades conservation and restoration. Wear it as a reminder to curb your plastic habit, live more sustainably, and encourage others to take action to protect what they love.
We believe in restoring the Everglades to its raw and natural state so the mystery, history, and heart-stopping beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site can be enjoyed for generations to come. If you do, too, we encourage you to get involved or donate to Captains For Clean Water directly.
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