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The need for Everglades restoration is indisputable, but exactly how effective have restoration efforts been so far? A decade-long study of phosphorus concentrations may offer some insight.

Sixteen years since the inception of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), FIU masters student Shishir Sarker investigates the effectiveness and progress of this restoration effort by analyzing changes in total phosphorus concentrations in water and soils.

Although phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plant growth, it also acts as a contaminant with the potential to cause eutrophication- a detrimental excess in richness of nutrients. Given that the Everglades is naturally a very low nutrient system, any additional amount of phosphorus in surface water can disrupt the entire balance of the ecosystem and remain within the soils for long periods of time, further disrupting the ecosystem balance.

Through his research with FIU’s Department of Earth and Environment, Mr. Sarker has worked with Dr. Rene Price from FIU and Dr. Yogesh Khare from the Everglades Foundation to interpret total phosphorus trends both in the water and soil within the Everglades Protection Area over the span of a decade. While results were mixed, they found that, overall, restoration efforts have lowered phosphorus levels, positively impacting ecosystem recovery.

Sarker and his team examined total phosphorus in surface water from 2004 to 2016 and observed that concentrations in water decreased across the Everglades Protection Area during that timeframe, but remain above the ecological threshold (>10 µg/L) in some areas. Trends in soil total phosphorus decreased from 2004-2014, but increases were observed in Water Conservation Area 3 (WCA3), possibly due to nutrient inputs from the Miami canal. Moreover, Sarker found that areas experiencing higher concentrations in total phosphorus for both water and soil had something in common: their proximity to canal or water discharge points. In areas less than 1 km away from a canal or water discharge points, both soil and water total phosphorus concentrations were higher.

“It’s really nice to observe that the restoration is working for most parts of the Everglades Protection Area, but more effort is still needed to control phosphorus inputs near canals or discharge stations. We need more effort to restore the Everglades soil as it has a huge impact on the enrichment of total phosphorus in water columns,” urges Sarker.

With the Everglades currently reduced to half of its historic size, Sarker explains the value of better understanding the effects of total phosphorus in the Everglades, and how this can impact future restoration efforts:

“This research helped me to understand the different aspects of phosphorus and its detrimental effect on our natural ecosystem and how we can control them. I hope my research contribution will help restoration managers to take more effective actions towards Everglades restoration.”

This work is the result of a powerful partnership between FIU and the Everglades Foundation. We pride ourselves on pooling our expertise and reach to train undergraduate and graduate students, conduct leading science to inform policy and management decisions, and engage and inform the public to protect and restore America’s Everglades.

Interested in supporting this work? Give today to ForEverglades Fellowship.