News

    Land Deal Raises Hopes for Everglades Restoration

    The Everglades is a vast wetland that once covered most of South Florida. Since the 1800s, agriculture and other development have replaced much of the original wildlife habitat. Now, a proposal by the region's biggest sugar producer to quit farming and sell its land to the state for permanent conservation has raised new hopes for the Everglades ecosystem. And as Véronique LaCapra reports, it could give a big boost to restoration efforts. 

    The Florida Everglades is the largest remaining subtropical wetland in the United States. But over the past century or so, half of the floodplain has been drained for human use. In the late 1940s, a massive government engineering project built roads, canals, and levees, to make even more dry land and fresh water available for farming and other development. The project drastically altered the flow of water in the Everglades, destroying approximately 5,000 square kilometers of wildlife habitat.

    All this has brought a rapidly expanding human population – about 7.5 million people – in close contact with an ever-more vulnerable ecosystem.

    Nick Aumen is an aquatic ecologist for the Everglades National Park, which protects the southern part of the original Everglades. In what used to be the northern part of the wetland, a huge agricultural area now covers more than 2,800 square kilometers.

    He says that in the Everglades Agricultural Area, crops can be grown almost year-round. "We're a major source of winter vegetables for much of the United States, and South Florida's also a major producer of sugar – of sugarcane, for the United States."

    Producing sugarcane and other agricultural crops takes fertilizer – plant nutrients, such as phosphorus. Mark Kraus is an ecologist with the Everglades Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports Everglades restoration. He says that while phosphorus may be good for sugarcane, it has been devastating for the Everglades' plants, which need very low levels of nutrients.

    "The Everglades are adapted to about 10 parts per billion of phosphorus," Kraus explains. "When you add a lot of additional phosphorus, it promotes the growth of other plants that aren't natural to those low-nutrient systems."

    Changes in water flow, nutrient pollution, and invasive species have all taken their toll on the Everglades, eliminating 90 percent of the wetland's former two million wading birds, and bringing almost 70 species – including panthers, alligators, and crocodiles – closer to extinction.

    And as Nick Aumen explains, restoration projects have been expensive, and slow to show results. "The Everglades are the site of some of the largest and most expensive restoration projects in the world."

    Aumen says that perhaps the biggest restoration effort was begun in 2000, and is projected to take as long as 35 years to complete and is estimated to cost as much as $18 billion.

    Recent restoration efforts have focused on energy-intensive engineering projects, including a controversial plan to pump water from Lake Okeechobee in and out of underground aquifers to control flooding and water availability.

    But according to Mark Kraus, a proposed land deal could change all that. "This land purchase is going to allow us to restore the Everglades more quickly, in a much less engineered fashion, and in a much more sustainable way."

    At the end of June, the state of Florida proposed to buy out U.S. Sugar Corporation, the largest sugarcane producer in the United States. The deal would take more than 750 square kilometers out of production, to be replaced by large water storage areas and artificial wetlands.

    Mark Kraus says the deal presents a really exciting opportunity for Everglades restoration. "I have been involved in this Everglades restoration project for over 12 years now," says Kraus. "We always thought that the right way to do this would be to be able to acquire some agricultural land […] and provide these large areas of water storage and water cleansing."

    But the deal has its problems. Under agricultural cultivation, the area's peat soils have subsided by more than a meter, and getting water to flow south again will take some engineering.

    What's more, U.S. Sugar's holdings are scattered throughout the region, so the state will have to negotiate land swaps with other sugarcane producers to recreate a continuous flow-way to the Everglades.

    And under the current terms of the deal, no restoration projects will begin anytime soon: U.S. Sugar gets six years to transition out of farming.

    Nick Aumen cautions that seeing environmental benefits from the more than 75,000 hectare buy-out could take even longer. A previous government land acquisition took ten years to start restoration in an area less than a third that size. "So it would not be surprising for us if this took as long, especially because it's a much larger land area."

    But Aumen and Kraus agree that if the deal between the state of Florida and U.S. Sugar is successful, it could bring about unprecedented environmental benefits to one of the world's most beautiful – and threatened – ecosystems.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.