After a boat ride through Florida Bay Friday and a quick primer on efforts to replenish the world’s largest seagrass meadow, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell called Everglades restoration work a model for the nation.
“There’s such important work going on here with potential to influence the world,” Jewell said from the banks of North Nest Key. “It’s a model.”
The lessons learned from more than two decades of work on the beleaguered estuary should inform conservation projects around the nation, Jewell said.
“The Everglades is teaching us about the interconnectedness of the landscape,” she said. “We’re learning the impact of what we do on shore is impacting what we do offshore.”
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Scientists from the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, along with newly appointed Everglades Superintendent Pedro Ramos, led Jewell to Poor Joe Key and other spots to explain how decreased water flow has allowed pollution and salinity to increase and foul the once pristine bay.
To repair the damage, scientists hope to return water flow to more historic levels by building a series of bridges across the Tamiami Trail and other projects. A one-mile span was completed in 2013, but two more spans remain.
Despite chronic delays, planning has proceeded, said Nick Aumen, regional science advisor for the USGS. Modeling has also provided a glimpse of what restoration can accomplish.
“Even though it’s a small amount and low flow,” Aumen said, “...it’s replicating the natural movement.”
Completing the work will become even more crucial if predictions for sea rise come true, he added.
Jewell’s tour coincides with a three-day conference by environmentalists in nearby Key Largo hoping to jump-start Everglades restoration efforts that flagged last year after $1.9 billion in crucial projects failed to make it into a public works bill. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers derailed the projects after failing to sign a report. Florida lawmakers proposed legislation this week to provide money, but parks service staff members predicted funding would not come until 2016, when another public works bill is expected in Congress.