The Everglades is regarded as one of the world’s most unique and spectacular natural wonders and Florida’s most valuable resource. There is compelling interest in protecting and restoring its vast ecosystem because of its tremendous economic and ecological value and the numbers are staggering.
Nearly 8 million people – about one-third of Florida’s population – depend on the Everglades for their daily water supply. The state’s multi-billion-dollar tourism industry backs 1.4 million jobs, including the nearly 130,000 jobs dependent on recreational saltwater fishing and freshwater fisheries that contributed a combined $9.7 billion to the state’s economy in 2014, according to NOAA’s Fisheries Economics of the United States.
Fisheries throughout the country contributed $208 billion in sales the following year, with 36 percent of all recreational fishing trips taken in Florida, according to the NOAA’s Fishers Economics of the U.S. Tens of thousands of jobs in Florida’s tourism, boating, real estate, recreational and commercial fishing industries are made possible by a healthy Everglades.
However, Florida’s waterways have been adversely impacted by recurrent harmful algal blooms and seagrass die-offs that have damaged local economies and businesses, harmed wildlife and threatened human health and safety. From June to September 2018, 4.4 million pounds of dead marine life washed ashore Lee County beaches costing an estimated loss of $87 million in business revenue from July to December, as reported by the Sanibel & Captiva Islands and Fort Myers Beach Chambers of Commerce.
The Everglades Coalition is an alliance of 62 local, state and national conservation and environmental organizations dedicated to fully restoring the greater Everglades ecosystem, consisting of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes into Lake Okeechobee, through the “River of Grass,” out to Florida Bay and the Florida Keys. The coalition held its 35th annual conference Jan. 9-11, hosted by the ‘Ding’ Darling Wildlife Society at South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island.
“The Everglades, the estuaries, our tourism-based economy and human health continue to suffer the longer restoration is delayed,” said Mark Perry, co-chair of the coalition and executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society.
The conference, themed “America’s Everglades: All Hands On Deck,” highlighted the need for widespread support to advance restoration, the largest project of its kind, and address Florida’s ongoing water crisis. The programs explored recent progress while calling for increased momentum to implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, also known as CERP.
“We are extremely grateful for the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, the Florida Legislature and the U.S. Congress for supporting CERP with significant funding levels in 2020,” said Marisa Carrozzo, co-chair of the coalition and environmental policy manager for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
“We need to see this type of consistent, high-level funding realized annually to ensure that projects are planned, built and operated for restoration benefits for the Everglades and the estuaries,” she said.
The Everglades Coalition is this year urging the Florida Legislature to fully fund the $322 million restoration budget to advance land acquisition, planning, construction and operation of projects and programs, including CERP and the State’s Restoration Strategies for water quality.
“We must continue to work for strong partnerships to achieve CERP and use this funding momentum to bring relief to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, and restored flow south to the Everglades and Florida Bay,” said Perry.
Additionally, the coalition will campaign in 2020 for strengthened protection of all waters and beaches; the reinstatement of strong statewide and regional land use planning to guide sustainable growth that is protective of Florida’s remaining natural areas and resources, including the taxpayer investment in Everglades restoration; and protection from impacts of climate change through increased action in climate change mitigation, such as the expansion of renewable energy and energy and water efficiency, as well as by ensuring oil exploration and drilling projects do not undermine restoration.
These legislative priorities closely mirror many of the topics covered in the conference. Keynote and panel speakers included some of the islands’ environmental champions, such as Southwest Florida Water Management District Board Chair Chauncey Goss, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation CEO Ryan Orgera and Kingfisher Real Estate Realtor Valerie Tutor, who is a Florida native. Two of the programs were moderated by SCCF Natural Resource Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel and Dr. Jim Metzler, co-chair of the DDWS Advocacy Committee.
For more information on the Everglades Coalition, visit https://www.evergladescoalition.org/.