The Fruits of Civilization (72-8) The Everglades

The Everglades

There are no other Everglades in the world. The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of sawgrass and of water, shining and slow-moving below. It is a river of grass. ~ American environmentalist Marjory Douglas

The lazy Kissimmee River in central Florida flows south into Lake Okeechobee, vast but shallow. The flow then meanders on, over the limestone shelf that defines the peninsula, through the Everglades marsh, which once covered all of Florida south of the Lake. The river of grass ends on the flats of Florida Bay.

The Everglades ecosystem is unique: a mosaic of freshwater ponds, prairies, and forested uplands supporting a rich community of life. The mix of salt and freshwater makes the Everglades the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles exist side by side.

In 1905, Florida governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward began a concerted effort to conquer the Everglades: draining it to render land suitable for agriculture and development; whence Miami and Fort Lauderdale sprouted up along the coast.

As south Florida’s population grew, so too the determination to suck the life out of the Everglades. In 1948, the federal government mandated a water management system that provided flood control, at the cost of irreparably damaging the Everglades ecosystem. Less than 2% of the Everglades was left intact. 99% of the alligators and crocodiles were gone.

Belatedly recognizing the devastation wrought, a series of laws and projects aimed at partial correction began in 1989. Since then, no restoration has been accomplished. Man cannot redeem the Nature he puts asunder.

There are huge challenges. We’ve had a lot of projects for a lot of years, and they never get done. ~ American hydrologist Terry Rice