Encompassing 1.5 million acres of mangroves, sawgrass marshes, and upland forest, the Everglades is the leading edge of coastal Florida, and like a massive shock absorber, it soaks up the fury of passing storms.
Seven months after Hurricane Irma has passed through, the park is still in recovery. Recovery efforts are said to continue through this year. In the constant need to adapt to climate change, the Everglades is no stranger to saltwater intrusion, which is the movement of salt water into underground sources of fresh water. Higher levels of salinity can change the way fresh water is used, and change the environment for the flora and fauna of the area.
For decades, the Everglades has been known to have a thirsty ecosystem cut off from fresh water, long diverted to create viable land for farms and development. The high freshwater levels in early 2018 are the result of two converging factors: Even as Hurricane Irma dumped a remarkable amount of rain along the length of Florida, a planned rerouting of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee flowed into the park. It is hoped that more fresh water might offset the creeping salt beginning to change the face of the Everglades, hypersalinization that’s testing the salt tolerance of the park’s freshwater plants.
“It would be difficult to understand how the Everglades works without evaluating both the effects of climate change and water management,” said Dr. Tiffany Troxler, principal investigator at Florida International University’s Wetland Ecosystems Research Lab.
With a front row seat for watching the Everglades react to a changing climate, Troxler has seen ever-increasing levels of salinity, encroaching seawater and the growth of “white zones,” areas of low biological productivity whose spread is thought to be spurred by decreased fresh water in the Everglades.
Read the full CNN article for more on the changing face of our Everglades.