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Many local South Floridians have come to know the Everglades as the nearby national park where they can bring out-of-towners when they visit the Sunshine State. The park allows visitors to see alligators, wading birds, and the sawgrass marshes that comprise the famed “River of Grass.” But there is so much more to the Everglades ecosystem. The 18,000 square-mile interconnected system of wetlands, rivers, cypress swamps, and hardwood hammocks actually begins near Orlando, extends east and west to both coasts, and extends all the way south to the Florida Keys and the offshore coral reefs. The Everglades is a critically important ecosystem for countless animal and plant species, and as the source of clean, fresh drinking water for over 8.1 million residents, it’s also important for the survival of our own South Florida community. However, more than a century of changes to the environment have put the ecosystem in jeopardy. 

Historically, water flowed slowly from the Kissimmee River to Florida Bay across the ecosystem’s extremely flat landscape. However, efforts to drain this natural functioning system for agricultural, residential, and commercial development began over a century ago. Today, roughly 50% of the historic Everglades has been converted to development. Fortunately, the Everglades ecosystem is also the focus of the world’s largest intergovernmental watershed restoration effort. The South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force supported by the Office of Everglades Restoration Initiatives (OERI) plays a unique role in this restoration effort by facilitating coordination among the numerous federal, state, local, and tribal governments involved in Everglades restoration. 

The Task Force, authorized by Congress through the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1996, facilitates and provides long-term coordination of conservation and restoration efforts being planned and implemented in the Everglades. Four sovereign entities (federal, state, and two tribes) are represented on the Task Force. The Task Force provides a forum for the participating agencies to share information about their restoration efforts, resolve conflicts, and report on progress. The Task Force has developed a restoration framework that includes a shared vision, strategic goals, and system-wide ecological indicators to organize and assess the restoration, preservation, and protection of the South Florida Ecosystem. Its efforts are supported by a Florida-based Working Group, the Science Coordination Group, and specific issue/regional teams. 

The FIU Southeast Environmental Research Center (SERC) within the Institute of Water and Environment (InWE) houses the offices of the Task Force. The OERI and Task Force is supported by a team that includes many long-term OERI staff and several FIU graduates. The OERI also recently welcomed Adam Gelber as its new Executive Director. 

Learn more about the Task Force’s Everglades Restoration Initiatives.