The Florida Everglades are not just home to gators, snowy egrets, and panthers. The Everglades provide South Florida with clean drinking water.

For centuries, fresh water moved slowly through the wetlands towards Florida Bay. But to make way for development, much of the region was drained.

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan aims to restore a natural flow of fresh water. But Shimelis Dessu of Florida International University says the decades-old plan ignores a key factor … rising seas.

Dessu: “We have shown that sea-level rise is an important and big piece of restoring the Everglades, and to address that, the sea level has to be included as a major component in the decision process.”

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Dessu says that as seas rise, salt water enters fresh water marshes. That can kill sawgrass, allow salt-loving mangroves to move inland, and impair the ecosystem.

Restoration managers can counteract rising salinity by directing more fresh water onto the landscape. So Dessu says they must consider sea-level rise when planning and executing projects.

Dessu: “What happens in the future depends on what we do today.”

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
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Eileen Mignoni

Eileen Mignoni is a South Florida-based visual journalist who has been working on stories about science, the environment, and energy for nearly 10 years. In addition to her work at Yale Climate Connections,...