CBS News: Lawmakers act to curb “scary” trend in Everglades – but another danger lurks

Photo by CBS News

The Everglades is the largest wetland of its kind in North America, but it’s been under assault for generations by residential development, water diversion and pesticide runoff. Now, a massive proposal is one step closer to putting more fresh water back into the ecosystem that covers more than 2,000 square miles of south Florida. Fresh water from the Kissimmee River used to flow south into Lake Okeechobee. During the rainy season, the overflow would go through the Everglades all the way to Florida Bay. But development has blocked much of that natural flow. Experts report that about 50 percent of the Everglades have been lost, and the rest is salvageable by restoring natural flow.

The diversion and disruption of that water are largely responsible for toxic algae blooms in recent years. Now, nearly 20 years after a major Everglades restoration plan was first agreed upon, the Florida Senate this month finally approved a $1.5 billion reservoir to collect and send some of the overflow back through the Everglades.

“This allows us to restore somewhat of that connection so that we can provide fresh water down to Everglades National Park and especially Florida Bay,” wetland ecologist Steve Davis of the Everglades Foundation said, adding that it’s “recreating the river of grass.”

But beneath the surface, another danger lurks – sea level rise. More salt water is seeping in. Left unchecked, it could one day taint the drinking water supply for 8 million people in south Florida. Dr. Tiffany Troxler, Director of Florida International University’s Sea Level Solutions Center, uses one of her Everglades research projects to demonstrate how salt water is already damaging vital sawgrass plants.

“When we came out here and measured the salt, it was about three times higher than what we thought we would see,” Troxler said.

She said that makes re-introduction of fresh water all the more important. While many think the Everglades are beyond the tipping point, she remains hopeful.

“I like to say that we got ourselves into this mess – we can figure out how to get ourselves out of it,” Troxler said.

Read the full CBS News article, and check out the video here.

Migration induced by sea-level rise could reshape the US population landscape

Journal of Nature, Climate Change: Many sea-level rise (SLR) assessments focus on populations presently inhabiting vulnerable coastal communities, but no studies have yet attempted to model the destinations of these potentially displaced persons. With millions of potential future migrants in heavily populated coastal communities, SLR scholarship focusing solely on coastal communities characterizes SLR as primarily a coastal issue, obscuring the potential impacts in landlocked communities created by SLR-induced displacement. Here I address this issue by merging projected populations at risk of SLR with migration systems simulations to project future destinations of SLR migrants in the United States. I find that unmitigated SLR is expected to reshape the US population distribution, potentially stressing landlocked areas unprepared to accommodate this wave of coastal migrants—even after accounting for potential adaptation. These results provide the first glimpse of how climate change will reshape future population distributions and establish a new foundation for modelling potential migration destinations from climate stressors in an era of global environmental change. Read the full article here >>

Seagrasses at World Heritage Site still suffer from heat wave

Massive seagrass beds in Western Australia’s Shark Bay have showed little recovery from a devastating 2011 heat wave, according to a new study. The team’s findings demonstrate how certain vital ecosystems may change drastically in a warming climate.

“We were studying a relatively pristine ecosystem, but in summer 2011 we had the hottest water temperatures on record at the time, and we saw 70-90 percent losses of seagrasses at our study sites. No one expected it to be that bad,” said Rob Nowicki, a researcher at Mote Marine Laboratory who conducted the fieldwork while a doctorate student in Marine Sciences at Florida International University. “After our colleagues documented the losses, we wanted to know how much the ecosystem might recover over a few years. If you take a punch and get up quickly, you’re ready for the next punch. But our study has suggested this system took a punch, and in the short term, it has not gotten back up.”

Several years after a harsh 2011 heat wave, a once-lush seagrass bed still struggles to recover. Read the full FIU News article here >>

Miami’s Fight Against Rising Seas

Florida State Road A1A runs the entire length of Florida along the ocean, making it vulnerable to flooding – as shown here in Fort Lauderdale in 2013 (Credit: Alamy)

BBC Future: Not only are sea levels rising, but the pace seems to be accelerating. That’s been noted before – but what it means for south Florida was only recently brought home in a University of Miami study. “After 2006, sea level rose faster than before – and much faster than the global rate,” says the lead author Shimon Wdowinski, who is now with Florida International University. From 3mm per year from 1998 to 2005, the rise off Miami Beach tripled to that 9mm rate from 2006.

An uptick also happened between the 1930s and 1950s, says Wdowinski, making some question whether this is a similar oscillation. But that’s probably wishful thinking. “It’s not necessarily what we see now. This warming of the planet has been growing for a while,” he says. “It’s probably a different process than what happened 60 years ago.”

Read the full article by the BBC Future here: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170403-miamis-fight-against-sea-level-rise

What We Are Talking About With Everglades Restoration

Located about 40 miles west of Miami, Water Conservation Area 3 is intended to help water managers control wet-season flooding and prevent dry-season droughts (Photo Courtesy of WLRN).

WLRN: Let’s start with what we’re losing:

One of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, from sawgrass to cypress trees, apple snails to alligators. The historic home of Florida’s Miccosukee and Seminole tribes. A national park.

The ecosystem that ensures fresh drinking water for more than 8 million Floridians.

Everglades advocate Marjory Stoneman Douglas talked about all this in an interview in 1983.

“It was a marvelous expanse of flat green land with its strangeness and its openness and its birds,” she said. “So utterly unique, you see. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.”

Read the full article by WLRN here: http://wlrn.org/post/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-everglades-restoration

Coastal Everglades, deprived of fresh water, near unhealthy ‘tipping point’

Miami Herald: At the bottom of the Everglades along the mouth of the Shark River, a towering mangrove forest stands in a place few people outside anglers and researchers ever see: at the edge of a vast shallow bay where the salty sea and freshwater marshes conspired to erect a cathedral of trees. In the current fight over restoration, this isolated region often gets overlooked. While Lake Okeechobee pollution to the north grabs headlines and gets the attention of Florida lawmakers, it’s actually here where damage may be most profound.

For the last 16 years, nearly 80 scientists and their students from 29 organizations — including all the state’s major universities, the National Park Service and the South Florida Water Management District — have embarked on one of the longest and largest studies ever conducted on South Florida’s coastal Everglades. They now fear the system may be at what lead investigator Evelyn Gaiser calls a “tipping point,” where change is happening faster than scientists expected and spinning into a self-perpetuating cycle of decline.

The mangroves ringing the coast are moving inland, overtaking vital freshwater marshes. Growing swathes of peat, the rich mucky soil that formed over a few thousand years, are collapsing. And periphyton, the spongy brown mats of native algae that form the foundation of the food chain, is shrinking.
“We have these tipping points,” says Evelyn Gaiser, lead investigator and Florida International University aquatic ecologist. “And when you’re on the edge of a major state change that seems irreversible, calling attention to this problem and doing whatever we can to remediate it is really important.”