As a fourth-generation Floridian, I'm ashamed to admit that I once didn't care about the Everglades.
That's right. It wasn't that I blatantly thought, "Who cares about the Everglades??" but I lacked awareness. As a kid, the Everglades was just the green swamp that we crossed on the way to the Keys. I didn't know a thing about the turbulent history or how the water is mismanaged or that I would one day be fighting for it.
It wasn't until I experienced the destructive results of the 2016 discharge of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River, that I realized a problem firsthand. As an angler, I'm thinking, how is this legal?? As a Floridian, I was determined to get involved.
I became actively involved with a group of advocates for Everglades restoration, Captains for Clean Water, a non-profit founded by local fishing guides who were pissed off at the water mismanagement. I began to get informed on the issues and recently read a book called "The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise," a captivating read about the history of Florida and decades of man's interference. Yet as a communicator, the greatest impact I could hope to have is to help make others aware of the issues.
As a disclaimer, I write this article from the position of a Floridian who cares deeply about preserving what resources we have left. I will not pretend to understand every dark corner of the political game and I don't care to. I'm not here to proclaim stances, point fingers or ruffle feathers. If I wasn't aware of the history of my own home state, I'd bet there are others who are in the same boat so I write for those people.
As a human race, we can only destroy so much until there is nothing left. Once it's gone, it's gone. That's why we must preserve the last remaining wild places. We don't need more high rises, theme parks or developed land. I want my future children to enjoy and preserve the "true Florida" that remains.
Captains for Clean Water Takes Over DC
On April 23, 2018, the crew of Captains for Clean Water traveled to Washington DC with the hopes of securing federal funding for the EAA Reservoir project.
Day one was spent at the Everglades Summit hosted by the Everglades Foundation. It included panels of speakers that ranged from policymakers and legislators to outdoor industry leaders, discussing the need for Congress to authorize the EAA Reservoir.
On day two, Captains for Clean Water, marine industry leaders, Florida fishing guides and other Everglades organizations took to the halls of Congress to ask Congressmen to support the EAA Reservoir project to safeguard Florida’s $15.3 billion marine and $9.3 billion fishing industries.
What is the EAA Reservoir Project?
The EAA Reservoir is an Everglades Restoration project designed to restore the overflow of Lake Okeechobee waters to a reservoir south of the lake, then ultimately into the Everglades as God rightfully intended. Under Senate Bill 10, $800 million was appropriated toward the project in 2017 and the purpose of the Captains' journey to Washington was to gain support from the federal government to receive that funding.
The Destruction of The Swamp
The destruction of the Everglades is a long story of man's abuse, greed, lies, murder, natural disasters and miscalculations that spans nearly two centuries.
Throughout the late 19th century, the progressive-minded wheeler-dealers declared the Everglades “a vast and useless wasteland” that should be drained and reclaimed as productive farmland. Plans were concocted, manmade canals were dredged, and bit by bit, tracts of Glades were exchanged for baseless promises of a "flourishing garden of eden."
Eventually, millions of acres of this sacred wetland were given away, bought up, destroyed and developed until only 1.5 million acres remained. It didn’t take long for concerned groups of people to take notice and begin battling for protection and conservation of the Everglades. In 1947, the Everglades National Park was established to preserve what was left.
Today, the water continues to be mismanaged for agricultural purposes, while our marine ecosystems disintegrate as a result. Billions of gallons of polluted water are dumped into our saltwater estuaries on the east and west coasts. The Everglades and Florida Bay suffer from lack of freshwater. Ecosystems are disrupted, habitats are destroyed, toxic algal blooms plague the coasts, Florida's billion dollar industries take a hit and the existence of the Everglades balances on the edge of a destruction we can't come back from.
Why Should You Care About The Everglades?
The Everglades is an internationally important symbol of western wilderness, a historic landmark and a national treasure. One of the last remaining true, wild places in America. Here are the best reasons I can give you as to why you should care about the Everglades:
It is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and a highly diverse habitat, providing a home to hundreds of plant and animal species.
Only 1.5 million acres remain of the Everglades and it was the first national park established to protect an ecosystem.
Clean drinking water - the Everglades ecosystem begins near Orlando and flows south all the way to the Florida Keys, filling the natural aquifers that provide drinking water for more than 8 million Florida residents.
It's an economic driver for multi-billion dollar industries - tourism, fishing, real estate, outdoor recreation. If Florida waters are polluted, travelers don't travel here, our economies suffer and the cycle continues.
The Everglades are the largest environmental restoration project in the United States of America. To succeed in saving the Everglades would be a testament to the nation and a monumental success in the history of conservationism.
Preserve a place for your family to vacation and your kids to explore. There is no other Sunshine State.
We Want The Everglades Back
Following the Everglades Summit, the immediate hope is to receive federal funding for the reservoir, but we know that is only a short-term solution. We need real solutions and the political willpower to make it happen. To stay in the loop on Everglades news, events and opportunities to get involved, follow Captains for Clean Water on Facebook or join their email.
I’ll leave you with this video of Captain Chris Wittman, co-founder of Captains for Clean Water, inviting congressmen to “come spend a day in our office” on the waters of Florida Bay and beyond. Video courtesy of Captain Daniel Andrews of Captains for Clean Water.