(BLACK PR WIRE) -- Deep in the heart of Florida's Everglades, you may think nothing has changed in 100 years. Some 2 million acres of famous saw grass prairies and tree islands still exist. Wading and migratory birds still flock to shallow freshwater wetlands, but in vastly smaller numbers than many years ago. Alligators quietly glide through inland waters and panthers roam uplands, often in protected preserves.
But looks can be deceiving. America's most famous wetland has changed tremendously in the past century. Efforts to develop south Florida and protect early residents from deadly hurricanes and droughts have taken a huge toll on the natural environment. Half the Everglades' wetlands are gone forever, replaced by cities and farms. The remainder suffers from too much or too little fresh water, usually not clean.
In 2000, Congress passed an ambitious plan to restore the Everglades. The $10.5 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan will "get the water right" in the remaining ecosystem. Over 30 years, projects will be built to store, clean, and ultimately deliver essential fresh water "" the Everglades' lifeblood "" to the ecosystem when and where needed. Native plants and animals will return in greater numbers. Non-native plants will diminish. Many other natural characteristics of the historic Everglades will return as the remaining ecosystem becomes stronger and more resilient.
But, if you never put foot in Florida, why would restoring a remote and often-inhospitable swamp be important?
First, the Everglades is a very large ecosystem. Scientists are learning more and more about the complexities and importance of large ecosystems. The Everglades covers 16 counties stretching from Orlando to the Florida Keys. But, across the United States there are many other large watersheds, too. The Chesapeake Bay watershed includes six states, for example. Lessons we learn today about collaborative relationships to restore the Everglades can be applied to other large ecosystem restorations around the country.
Second, we are all biologically connected. As we start losing species of animals and plants in the Everglades, repercussions can be felt hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away.
Third, the Everglades is an important resting place for migrating waterfowl and other birds. As we start losing these critical migratory stops, we affect bird populations across the nation and continents. Marjory Stoneman Douglas put it this way more than 50 years ago: "Restoring the Everglades is a test. If we pass, we may get to keep the Planet."
In south Florida today, scores of scientists, planners, engineers and others are working on many diverse and interesting projects to better capture, store and deliver fresh water to the Everglades. If you never visit the Everglades, their work and a restored ecosystem may have an impact on your life and community, too. To learn more, please visit www.evergladesplan.org.