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News from the National Academies
Date: Aug. 8, 2002
Contacts: Bill Kearney, Media Relations Officer
Corbin Arberg, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

For Immediate Release
Publication Announcement

Consequences of Everglades Restoration
For Florida Bay Are Uncertain

For decades until the late 1980s, Florida Bay at the tip of the state's peninsula was characterized by crystal-clear water and dense meadows of seagrasses, principally turtle grass. Since then, its water has become increasingly clouded and its turtle grass meadows have been decimated. The proposed plan to restore the Florida Everglades ecosystem is also expected to improve certain kinds of habitat in Florida Bay by increasing the flow of fresh water into the bay, thereby countering the increased salinity that has been blamed for killing the turtle grass and clouding the water.

These expectations, however, may not be fulfilled, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. The evidence linking salinity to turtle grass die-off is debatable, and some calculations call into question the amount of fresh water that will actually reach the bay if the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is fully implemented. Recent observations also suggest that an influx of fresh water may actually ferry in higher levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, encouraging algal blooms, which cloud water and harm seagrass.

Because recent evidence suggests that the proposed plan could produce these changes to the marine environment, a focused technical review and evaluation are needed, said the committee that wrote the report. Research also should be performed to reduce uncertainties about the potential long-term effects of CERP on Florida Bay to allow time for alternative strategies to be developed if needed. And more research is needed to pinpoint the factors responsible for killing the seagrasses and clouding the water.

In 1999, the federal government asked the National Research Council to advise its South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force on the scientific and technical aspects of restoration plans and activities. Florida Bay is included in CERP because it is intimately linked to the Everglades through a series of canals and waterways, and changes in Everglades water flows and ecology will likely affect the bay as well. Furthermore, some questions about the relationship between the two ecosystems remain unanswered.

Expectations that CERP will send more fresh water into eastern Florida Bay may go unrealized, the report notes. According to South Florida Water Management District models, the direct flow of fresh water into the bay is not likely to change markedly by the year 2050, despite restoration efforts. And ironically, efforts to return Florida Bay to a clear and densely vegetated state actually may run counter to its natural conditions. Historical accounts suggest that the bay may have been a murky body of water prior to the last century. More precise and reliable characterization of the bay's earlier history, as well as more accurate measures of groundwater discharge and surface-water runoff, would help clarify how CERP might affect Florida Bay.

The committee's work was funded by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The National Research Council is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science policy advice under a congressional charter granted to the National Academy of Sciences. A committee roster follows.

Copies of Florida Bay Research Programs and Their Relation to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan will be available later this summer from the National Academy Press; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Earth and Life Studies
Water Science and Technology Board
Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology

Committee on Restoration of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem

Jean M. Bahr (chair)
Professor
Department of Geology and Geophysics
University of Wisconsin
Madison

Scott W. Nixon (vice-chair)
Professor
Graduate School of Oceanography
University of Rhode Island
Narragansett

John S. Adams
Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and Chair
Department of Geography
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis

Linda K. Blum
Research Associate Professor
Department of Environmental Sciences
University of Virginia
Charlottesville

Patrick L. Brezonik
Professor and Director
Water Resources Research Center
University of Minnesota
St. Paul

Frank W. Davis
Professor
Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management
Department of Geography
University of California
Santa Barbara

Wayne C. Huber
Professor
Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering
Oregon State University
Corvallis

Stephen R. Humphrey
Dean, College of Natural Resources and Environment, and
Affiliate Professor of Latin American Studies, Wildlife Ecology, and Zoology
University of Florida
Gainesville

Daniel P. Loucks*
Professor
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Cornell University
Ithaca, N.Y.

Kenneth W. Potter
Professor
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
University of Wisconsin
Madison

Larry Robinson
Professor, and
Director, Environmental Sciences Institute
Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
Tallahassee

Rebecca R. Sharitz
Professor, Department Plant Biology
University of Georgia
Athens, and
Senior Scientist
Savannah River Ecology Laboratory
Aiken, S.C.

Henry J. Vaux Jr.
Professor, Department of Environmental Science
University of California, Riverside, and
Associate Vice President
Agricultural and Natural Resource Programs
University of California System
Oakland

John Vecchioli
U.S. Geological Survey (retired)
Odessa, Fla.

Jeffrey R. Walters
Professor, Department of Biology
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

William S. Logan
Study Director


* Member, National Academy of Engineering