Sometimes, new challenges can provide the best opportunity for insight. As Hurricane Irma—the most powerful storm to hit the state in more than a decade—approached South Florida, our concerns were far-reaching:
- How would wildlife and natural resources fare?
- Where would the damages be most severe?
- How would we recover?
As the storm’s path continued over America’s Everglades, it became clear that this vast network of wetlands doesn’t just serve as important wildlife habitat. As Audubon’s Celeste De Palma noted in a recent Miami Herald oped, these wetlands are, in fact, our first line of defense against incoming storms. Hurricane Irma, in contrast with record-breaking high water levels and a severe drought immediately preceding it, put the importance of ongoing Everglades restoration efforts in a new light.
One incredible demonstration of the value of restoration investments was provided by the Kissimmee River Restoration project located south of Orlando. This project is a world-renowned model for ecosystem restoration. When the first part of the restoration was complete, the positive impact on surrounding areas was immediate. Birds returned more quickly than ever anticipated, and the area quickly mirrored its historic characteristics.
The restored river and floodplain held back water during Hurricane Irma that would otherwise have flooded into Lake Okeechobee. Restoration prevented a challenging situation on the lake from getting even worse. This part of the Everglades responded to an extreme weather event the way it would have historically. This resilience is just what is needed as extreme weather becomes more commonplace.
With your help, Audubon is advancing restoration progress like this across America’s Everglades. And every completed restoration project helps increase resiliency and the ability to respond to challenges like Hurricane Irma.
Julie Hill-Gabriel, Esq.
Deputy Director, Audubon Florida