The river of grass is unlike any other ecosystem in the world. It is one of only three wetland sites designated as internationally significant by UNESCO, and has provided a fascinating case study into the interactions of nature and human growth patterns.
Humans have been residing in the area for centuries, but intensive development of the Everglades started in the 19th century, in a nationwide push to drain wetlands to increase available farm- lands, as well as fundamentally paving the way for the future of South Florida, with Henry Flagler extending his FEC railway as quickly as drainage projects would allow. The proximity of highly productive farmland to rapidly developing urban areas led to an enormous economic boom, attracting the diverse and colorful demographics the region retains to this day.
The continued pressure of development very quickly took a toll on the wetlands, sparking conservation moments following the creation of Everglades National Park in 1947, with Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ infamous work, The Everglades: Rivers of Grass. The title forced the recognition that the Everglades were simply an obstacle in the path of construction, but an enormous living, dynamic system. Protection reached the national stage in the 7O’s when an enormous jetport was proposed, with the potential to devastate the ecological stability of the region; some- thing already weakened by hurricanes and excessive drainage and diversion projects. A series of projects of restoration projects were established, culminating in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which is working to revive the entire ecosystem.
The necessity of preserving the Everglades cannot be overstated. Value analyses have shown that the economic value of a re- stored Everglades is over $46 billion, up to $123 billion. Components of this number include tourism, construction, commercial fishing amongst other traditional benefits. One of the most relevant to South Florida however, is groundwater purification. The Everglades acts as an immense desalinization plant, thanks to its dense mangrove habitat. The value of the filtration is over $13 billion, significantly reducing the energy required by water management districts, and generally improving water quality.
The Everglades also house over 20 rare to threatened species, such as the Florida Panther, in a wide range of ecosystems. The Park contains nearly 300 species of fish, 4OO bird species, and the alligator and crocodile, making it one of the biggest and most diverse repositories of wildlife. The cultural significance of the Everglades is quite substantial as well, with over 200 archaeological sites. Ultimately, the water systems of the Everglades made settlement possible in Southeast Florida. Its preservation will ensure the region is here to stay.