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September 20, 2020

This page last modified:
May 29, 2001

South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Project

The south Florida ecosystem, also called the greater everglades ecosystem, stretches from Orlando, through the Kissimmee Valley, Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades, through Florida Bay and through the Florida Keys coral reef tract. The south Florida ecosystem encompasses many nationally significant conservation areas, including Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, Big Cypress National Preserve, the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Today, the south Florida ecosystem is a shell of what it used to be. Signs within Florida Bay include extremely high salinity, large algae blooms and expanses of dead seagrass. The current condition of Florida Bay is the result of greater environmental problems occurring throughout the entire south Florida ecosystem.

Over the past 50 years the south Florida ecosystem has been seriously degraded by disruptions to the natural hydrology. Large areas have been greatly altered by engineered flood control and water distribution for agriculture and urban development. Continuing development and an influx of people has further stressed the system. Simply stated, the altering of the natural system has affected the quantity, timing and distribution of water flow in south Florida.

The environmental problems occurring throughout the south Florida ecosystem have drawn attention from local state and national agencies, resulting in the congressionally mandated Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The Comprehensive plan will cost 8 billion dollars, take over 20 years to accomplish and includes over 60 components that will "get the water right" by addressing the issues of water quality, quantity, timing and distribution. Six federal departments, seven Florida State agencies, sixteen counties, two American Indian tribes, businesses and interest groups are participating in this restoration effort. All agree that the restoration of the south Florida ecosystem is key to a long-term sustainable Florida economy.

The top 10 reasons why we should restore south Florida:

  • Approximately 70% less water flows through the ecosystem today.
  • The timing, distribution and quantity of fresh water is not natural.
  • The quality of water has been severely degraded.
  • Lake Okeechobee, the second largest freshwater lake wholly in the U.S., is threatened.
  • There is not enough water for people and we could continue to see more frequent water shortages.
  • Degraded water quality in estuaries and bays. These areas are critical homes and nurseries to many fish and wildlife.
  • Declines in commercial fisheries in Biscayne and Florida Bays.
  • Ninety- percent reduction in wading bird populations.
  • Sixty-nine species on the federal endangered or threatened list.
  • A 19% decline in living corals in the last decade.

The Comprehensive Ecosystem Restoration Program will:

  • Deliver the right amount of water at the right time in the right amount to the right places.
  • Improve water quality
  • Enhance water supply thus providing additional water for agriculture and the growing south Florida population.
  • Store much of the water that is now sent to sea in order to provide enough water for the environment, agriculture, and people.
  • Provide flood protection.
  • Support the recovery of threatened and endangered species.
  • Benefit the economy by providing abundant clean water for agriculture, tourism, recreation, commercial and recreational fishing.
  • Improve freshwater delivery to Biscayne and Florida Bay.

Why is CERP important for Florida Bay?

  • Restoration will improve freshwater delivery (quantity, quality, timing and distribution) into the bay.
  • At least 22 commercially and/or recreationally important species are known to use Florida Bay as a nursery ground.
  • Improve aquatic habitats including mangroves, coastal marshes, seagrass beds and coral reefs. These in turn produce food, shelter, breeding and nursery grounds, which support productive fish, shellfish and wildlife communities.
  • Florida Bay supports a $59 million shrimp fishery and a $22 million stone crab fishery.
  • More than 4 million people visit Florida Keys and Florida Bay each year to engage in water related activities.

The Florida Bay Education Project is an archived site. For more information go to NOAA's South Florida Ecosystem Education Project at