The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

Eroded Dreams

Gabriel Garrido
IDH 4007
Spring Semester 2004

   I do not really remember when this feeling started. Perhaps it started right away, during the first day of class. It is a sensation that accompanies me all the time. Frequently, in many places of Miami, I encounter remnants of nature, little pockets of life that reminds me of the Everglades. It happens when I go to Publix at Forest Lakes in West Kendall and I glimpse at the shrubs that are in the parking lot, and I know that those shrubs are not just shrubs, they are coco plums. And the trees, located a little further away, closer to Blockbusters, are not just simple trees; they are Gumbo Limbos and Strangler figs. At Bayside, downtown, the pelicans are not just pelicans they are Brown pelicans and on the FIU Biscayne campus the pelicans are White pelicans, at least the ones I saw. The mangroves that line the Biscayne campus Bay are predominately red, but I see scattered black and white mangroves too. And when I'm driving down the Palmetto expressway I wonder if the vultures that are flying high above are black vultures or turkey vultures, but they are too far away for me to know. (Please, no bird watching while driving, you may cause an accident).

   Definitely, the Everglades recollections are consistently around me, and since I have been taking The Everglades class, the way I perceive and feel Miami has changed completely. It is like having x-ray vision. If I see a red mangrove on FIU Biscayne campus, my recollection goes much further than recognizing and remembering the name of that mangrove, in addition, the properties of the red mangrove also appear in my mind: "it has prop roots and drops roots from branches and the upper stem. The roots are extended only a few inches into the soil, and normally, the red mangrove is the one that grows closest to the water." Today, I feel much more connected to Miami, I understand and enjoy it like never before. There has occurred a change in how I perceive my surroundings and how I interact with it and not only from an environmentalist perception, but from an urban perception too. To learn how Miami functions helped me to be more receptive and interested in the issues that affect it, such as quality of potable water, flooding, water economy or salt-water intrusion into the Biscayne aquifer among others concerns.

   Lately, I was often thinking about the complete restoration of the original Everglades itinerary; an Everglades that slowly flows from the Kissimmee River to Florida Bay without interruptions. Today that seems an idealistic thought, especially after the facts presented by Jana Newman, a Senior Supervising Environmental Scientist, during our visit to the South Florida Water Management District. She said that the major impediment to the original restoration is the erosion of the soil done by the continuous farming of the Everglades Agricultural Area. In ten years there will not be enough soil left to cultivate, and farming will be abandoned. The current farming practice is converting the Agricultural Area into a basin, and if the waters of lake Okeechobee were let to flow freely, the result would be another lake and not the intended shallow flow of the original river. I was completely disappointed and probably in denial to the facts that Dr. Newman was presenting to us. "Is she on our side?" I asked myself and was suspicious for a moment. The South Florida Water Management District has symbolized the power of man over nature, the power over the degraded Everglades. Later, she said that probably real state development was a real possibility to supplant the farming in the Everglades Agricultural Area, and then, all my dreams about the complete Everglades restoration fell apart. For a moment I thought of what our Everglades class was all about. It's about man's development and his continuous battle against his natural environment. It's about human perception in relation to nature, and how this perception continuously changes from generation to generation. It's about economics and its powerful influence. It's about politics and its corruption. It's about human awareness of its errors. But overall, it's about man's responsibility towards their environment, a crucial element of human survival.

   I felt the disappointment in other students too, and I overheard a conversation that said, "If we flood the Everglades Agricultural Area, a new peat would grow overtime, the same as they grow in the canals, and the shallow river in the future would be constituted again." I don't know if that could be feasible and if it were, there are to many detractors to that idea, such as the farmers and the residents of two cities that are situated on the southern rim of lake Okeechobee.

   Last semester during our slough slog experience our guide, Ranger Alan Scott, explained to us how the water level in the Everglades is controlled by the hand of man. He told us that one of the problems that The Everglades faces is that we do not know how to mimic the water levels of the original water flow. Consequently, the wildlife in the park was considerably reduced and the animal species that highly depend on the right water levels such as the snail kite and the wood stork were considered in danger of extinction. Today, it seems that the only solution to keep restoring The Everglades is The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, a thirty-year project that will restore much of the remaining Everglades to a free flowing system. The hand of man will still be controlling the water flow, and that is something that makes me be worry about the future of The Everglades.

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