The humid heat hit my skin as I stepped into the noisy night at the Fort Lauderdale airport. I wondered if the welcome would include salutations from the “Swamp Angels”? The pesky mosquitoes are described as such in The Swamp- the historical and background reading prerequisite for the week of DEL-MEM’s Restoration Ecology in south Florida. The book provided a thorough introduction to the contradictions, complexities and conflict surrounding the history of the Everglades and its watershed. It describes a discordant past of politicians and capitalists seeking to drain the water systems and turn muck into profitable space for agriculture and development.
After centuries of man doing his best to drain and tame her, the Everglades is finding her way into the hearts of our leaders. A bipartisan bill passed in 2000 provided an $8 billion rescue which began a new story – the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP).
The development, degradation, destruction and damage done to the unique watershed are not easily undone. The DEL Program is taking us on an exploratory journey to see first-hand the multi-stakeholder efforts to heal ecosystem functions, water quality and habitats in southern Florida.
From Naples to Key West, two vans will carry conversations and inquiry of management plans, invasive and endangered species, mangrove restoration, hydrology and the coral reef restoration of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Meeting with managers and rangers at different sites will give us deeper understanding of work happening on-the-ground, taking a path of theory into practice. Experiential learning through service will provide us the opportunity to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty and be a part of the restoration effort.
The course gives us an inside look to the complex ecological restoration of a world-wide treasure that is more than just a swamp. Boat rides, beautiful sunsets, and beaches under a full moon are just a few of the perquisites.