For you to understand what the South Florida Ecosystem History Project is you need to know about southern Florida and the Everglades. The lifeline of the Everglades is fresh water flowing into it naturally from Lake Okeechobee. Without water the Everglades would be destroyed.
In 1909, the Everglades Drainage District connected Lake Okeechobee and the Miami River, which eventually runs into the ocean. This pulled the essential water source away from the Everglades. Since there was more water available, people began to move into the area and farm in the Everglades.
The farming of southern Florida also sent agricultural runoff into the Everglades. Runoff, which is rich in nutrients, caused certain species of plants to grow tremendously fast. The fast growth of these plants is crowding other plant and animal life in the area. The growth in population in Florida has also caused many problems; one is increased population means more need for water in nearby urban areas.
As a result of the loss of fresh water flowing through the Everglades, an increase in farming and runoff, and an increase in population, the Everglades' natural habitat is being destroyed and species are being lost. Many of the species are extinct or threatened. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida has 100 endangered species; 46 animals and 54 plants. Virginia only has 53 endangered species; 40 animals and 13 plants.
The Southern Florida Ecosystem History Project
That is where the people at the Southern Florida Ecosystem History Project come in. Several times a year they go to specific sites in the Everglades, Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay. They collect samples and observe the animals and plants in the area. In the Everglades, they collect samples of earth (peat cores) by pushing tubes into the ground. These peat cores are then removed and taken back to their lab at the U.S. Geological Survey. The cores are cut into 2 centimeter pieces and treated with strong chemicals to dissolve the sediment and any remains of animals, leaving only the pollen grains. The pollen grains are looked at under a microscope and scientists can find out what types or plants lived in the past.
At Florida and Biscayne Bay, piston core tubes are pushed into the mud on the floor of the bays. When they are removed they may hold sediment that is over 100 years old! Scientists take these core samples back to their lab at the U.S. Geological Survey and cut them into 2 centimeter pieces. Each of these samples are carefully picked over, to remove all the mud and sediment from the sample leaving only the remains of any organisms that lived on the bay floor. These organisms are mollusks, ostracodes, and foraminifera and are called benthic, or bottom-dwelling, organisms. Different species of these organisms like different types of environments to live in. These organisms can indicate what kind of environment existed when they were alive; such as grassy or sandy, salty or freshwater.
Other efforts today
Without such preservation efforts as the South Florida Ecosystem History Project, southern Florida would have long been destroyed. Officials must make hard choices about how to distribute southern Florida's water. There is a limited amount of water and the area's 4.5 million residents and farms must be supplied along with the environment.
President George Bush signed the Everglades National Park Protection and Expansion Act into law, on December 13, 1989. This law makes 107,000 acres east of the Everglades part of the park. This law also makes the Army Corps of Engineers disassemble some of the canals and levees that they built, and restore the Kissimmee River and its surround wetlands. This will benefit a large variety of threatened and endangered wildlife.
For more information on other efforts that continue on today, check out some of the other projects related to the South Florida Ecosystem History Project by visiting our related links page, or visiting the South Florida Information Access (SOFIA) website.
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Center for Coastal Geology