If you thought the Y2K computer problem was overwhelming, give a thought to Y6B: the year of six billion. It is estimated that global population recently hit 6 billion, with the state of Florida housing 15 million of it.
Even in an era of trillion-dollar budgets and mega-billionaires, these figures are compelling. It took from the beginning of mankind to the year 1800 to reach a world population of one billion. Today the world gains one billion people in a mere 12 years and Florida makes room for 900 new residents each day. By any standard, that is a lot of people and by any measure, it is a huge environmental challenge, perhaps humankind's biggest yet.
The consequences of population growth can certainly be felt close to home. No area of the state may feel the effects of this increase more than the south Florida regional watershed that ranges from the Kissimmee River to Florida Bay.
Since the mid 19th century, population growth has caused people living in this region to become competitors with nature for a finite supply of natural resources. More than 50 percent of the Everglades have been lost to urban development and agriculture in the last 100 years. Canals and water control structures that provide drainage and flood control have disrupted the natural flow of water to the Everglades and Florida Bay. Development, farms, and roads have fragmented or destroyed wildlife habitat. Both fresh and saltwater systems have been significantly damaged by chemical runoff, sewage discharge, and air-borne pollution. Exotic species introduced by humans threaten to displace native plants and animals. Persistent urban sprawl continues to destroy wetlands, hardwood hammocks, mangroves, and pinelands.
The State of the World Population Report 1999 affirms that, "One of the real choices we will face in the 21st century is how many species and ecosystems we are willing to eliminate in order to make more space for human activities." We aren't just living through a time of environmental decline; it appears we are causing it.
Damage to local ecosystems by human beings is neither new, nor uncommon. From early times, people have inflicted significant impacts on the environment - such as the intentional burning of Africa's savannas at least 50,000 years ago. However, only in more recent times has humanity become a force that rivals nature. The reasons for this are complex and linked to changes not only in human population but also in technology, consumption patterns, and the decisions made by people, businesses and governments.
Trying to meet the needs of both humans and nature is a complicated and ongoing challenge for scientists and resource managers focused on understanding and restoring the south Florida environment. The collaboration of several federal and state agencies involved in the Florida Bay and Adjacent Marine Systems Science Program, is helping to answer critical questions about the south Florida ecosystem restoration through research, monitoring, and modeling projects. In turn, this scientific information enables resource managers as well as the scientific and public community to make responsible decisions based on sound science.
At the current rate of growth, the U.S. Census Bureau projects there will be 21 million Floridians in 2025, not including the 39 million that vacation here some years. This state population number is third only to California and Texas.
As one of the nation's most populous states, housing one of the world's largest ecosystem restoration projects, knowledge of human impacts on Florida's environment needs to become both more apparent and more widespread.
Y6B isn't just another catchy term, but rather a serious environmental issue that poses perhaps an even greater scientific challenge than Y2K.
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.