U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland joined Audubon staff members Jerry Lorenz, PhD, State Director of Research, Kelly Cox, Esq., Director of Everglades Policy, Jon Paul Haydocy, Field Biologist at Everglades Science Center, and other Everglades stakeholders for an Everglades National Park-led tour of Florida Bay.
The field trip served as a fitting end to an exciting Everglades Coalition Conference, held in Coral Springs. Secretary Haaland’s Saturday evening keynote highlighted the importance of collaboration, federal investment, and tribal leadership in the restoration planning process.
More than two dozen attendees boarded boats for the tour of the park, rounding out the end of the Secretary’s first trip to the Everglades. The boats explored the iconic seagrass flats of Florida Bay, rich with tiny invertebrates and small fish, then motored to East Cape Canal (home of the groundbreaking restoration work described here). Participants spotted manatees, dolphins, American White Pelicans, crocodiles, and so much more.
“Audubon couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to get out on the water with Secretary Haaland in Florida Bay. Secretary Haaland immediately connected with the Bay and applauded our community’s collective efforts toward restoration,” says Cox.
“The Bay has been the subject of Audubon research efforts for 85 years, informing Everglades restoration and water management priorities throughout the region,” says Dr. Lorenz. “We are appreciative of Secretary Haaland’s leadership and hope to see continued federal investment in Everglades restoration.”
The tour of Everglades National Park demonstrated the importance of ongoing restoration work to bring more water to Florida’s River of Grass, the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie in North America. As sea level rise stresses the southernmost portion of the ecosystem, restoration must include efforts to improve water quality and prevent seagrass die-offs, all of which will make the region – and Florida as a whole – more resilient to the impacts of hurricanes and other storms.
Secretary Haaland recognized and deeply appreciated the efforts of the Everglades community to restore one of America’s most important wetlands. A healthy Everglades is critical, not only for the iconic Florida wildlife that call this region home, but also for our own continued prosperity. A healthy Everglades protects our communities from storms, bolsters the economy, and provides drinking water to more than eight million people in South Florida.
Audubon has been studying and advocating for the Everglades for 123 years. We appreciated the opportunity to show Secretary Haaland on-the-ground progress in Everglades restoration efforts, as well as how far we still need to go to forge a resilient future for the region as a whole.