My friend Kathleen moved to the Florida Keys a couple of years ago after visiting for over 8 years. When I asked her why she decided to move here she got kind of a glow in her eyes and told me of sitting on her porch looking out over Florida Bay with a cool beverage in one hand and knowing true peacefulness. Isn't that what attracts so many of us to the Florida Keys? The seductive nature of the sun setting over Florida Bay or rising over the Atlantic. We feel unique in our love for this exotic place and the way of life it supports. There are other parts of our fair state that generate a similar surge of endorphins, enough of them in fact to bring approximately 900 new residents a day to our state.
How can any place withstand growth of that magnitude and continue to thrive? Mother Nature is resilient but can she endure the 6.2 million people projected to occupy South Florida by the year 2015? That is the million dollar question, or rather the $6 to $8 billion question, the amount estimated to be spent on restoration activities over the next 20 years by federal, state and local management agencies.
The general consensus by scientists and managers is that there must be changes to the water management system of South Florida for the ecosystem to function effectively. The 29 agencies that make up the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force have established a set of goals to guide the restoration process. The goals are: 1) To restore the natural water flow of South Florida; 2) To enhance and recover native habitats and species; and, 3) To revitalize urban areas in order to reduce the outward growth of suburbs and improve quality of life in these urban core areas.
There is a proposed plan for restoration and many projects are already underway. What is the key to making it all a success though? It is involvement. Residents, and yes visitors too, must take an interest in and participate in the restoration process.
Florida Bay is near the end of a 10,800 square mile system extending from Orlando to the Dry Tortugas. Residents of the Keys have an advantage; many are veterans of very public planning processes including developing the Growth Management Plan and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Management Plan. We know how long and complicated government action can be. The challenge to improve the health of the Bay and the coral reef is tied to the actions of all those living upstream. So, as weary as we may be of reading government agency reports and attending invigorating public meetings, we must continue to stay involved. If you haven't been following the activities of the restoration effort, it isn't too late to start. A first step could be to contact the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force at www.sfrestore.gov and the Florida Bay Research Program at www.aoml.noaa.gov/Flbay.
Whether you are here for the excitement of fighting a record-breaking tarpon or the tranquility of watching a perfect sunset, you are a caretaker of this awesome place. Take part in the restoration.
For more information on this research, contact the Florida Bay Education Project at 305-852-3592. Additional information on a variety of topics is available from the University of Florida/Monroe County Cooperative Extension Service, 5100 College Road, Stock Island or call at 292-4501; fax: 292-4415; email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our web site http://monroe.ifas.ufl.edu. Our services are free and available to all without regard to race, color, sex, or national origin.