Efforts to restore the rich ecology of the Florida Everglades have so far focused on fighting damage from pollutant runoff and reestablishing the natural flow of water. But now, an expert panel is calling for federal and state agencies to reassess their plans in light of threats from climate change and sea-level rise. A congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, released on 16 October, asks the managers of the 18-year-old Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) to conduct a “midcourse assessment.” The new evaluation should account for likely conditions in the wetlands in “2050 and beyond” and model how existing restoration projects would fare under various sea-level rise scenarios.
“I use the analogy of a hockey player,” says environmental economist William Boggess at Oregon State University in Corvallis, who is chair of the panel behind the new report. “Maybe we should be skating to where the puck is going to be rather than where it is right now.”
The Everglades watershed once included more than 1 million hectares of wetlands, sawgrass plains, and tree islands across southern Florida, but agriculture and human settlement have shrunk that habitat by half. Phosphorus from agricultural runoff has killed sawgrass that thrives in the Everglades’ naturally low-phosphorus conditions. In its place, dense cattail habitats have sprung up, choking off water access for animals and birds. Eighty plant and animal species in the larger region are now threatened or endangered.