Everglades Science Center Sheds Light on Water, Fish, and Spoonbill Fluctuations

The semi-annual State of the Slough showcases how restoration projects affect South Florida ecosystems.

Audubon Florida has released its semi-annual analysis describing water, salinity, fish, submerged aquatic vegetation, and Roseate Spoonbill impacts in South Florida. The State of the Slough reflects data collected by the Everglades Science Center team from June through September of 2022.

At the southern end of Everglades National Park, a series of wetland sloughs convey freshwater to the Florida Bay estuary. Audubon researchers track these freshwater deliveries (or lack thereof) and their impacts on the ecology of Taylor Slough and the Bay. This data provides critical feedback to Everglades restoration — measuring whether restoration efforts are going in the right direction and recommending how water management could improve.

The 2022-23 water year started with record-high water levels in June and has overall experienced higher-than-normal water levels. Hurricane Ian raised the water level in Taylor Slough by almost 24 cm - driven by rain and storm surge. Although water levels are high now, nesting season has not started yet and there is still time for water levels to drop in the slough. Roseate Spoonbills need water levels of around 13 cm while they are rearing young to successfully find enough prey fish to feed their chicks.

“This short-term snapshot of data tells us that Hurricane Ian’s rainfall and storm surge affected Taylor Slough in positive and negative ways by increasing freshwater flow, but also creating abnormally high water levels,” said Alex Blochel, Senior Biologist at Everglades Science Center. “As we continue to evaluate our long-term data, we will more comprehensively understand the impacts of this event on the natural systems and we hope to see a more stabilized freshwater community in Taylor Slough by the end of the hydrologic year.”

In total, Everglades Science Center sampled 409 fish at Taylor River during June and September. During the start of the 2022-23 seasons sampling events, 1.2% of fish caught were freshwater species, falling well short of the target of having freshwater species make up more than 40% of the catch. A long period of low salinity is vital for freshwater plant species like Utricularia spp. and Rupia maritima to establish, as well as freshwater fish species like bluefin killifish, which were not caught yet this hydro year. As restoration of the Everglades continues, enough fresh water must flow south and fall as rain to keep salinity levels low, thus lengthening the period for these freshwater plants and fish species to establish, which in turn also benefits wading birds.

Audubon Florida protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1900, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive.

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