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Natural Systems


Protect, restore and properly manage natural systems and the services they provide to society and Southeast Florida while enhancing their resilience and improving their capacity to support climate adaptation and carbon sequestration.

Southeast Florida’s natural areas are globally unique and support a web of life not found anywhere else. These natural areas depend upon specific temperature, water and salinity conditions. Coral reefs and seagrass meadows grow in clear, shallow seawater with abundant sunlight and stable temperatures, while mangroves thrive in brackish areas between the low- and high-tide lines. Freshwater-dependent hardwood hammocks, pine rockland forests and pine flatwoods support an abundance and diversity of rare plants and animals unique to the region. The Everglades’ wetlands and tree islands depend on seasonal rainfall patterns that have existed for centuries, along with adequate freshwater flows. Climate change threatens many of these already stressed natural assets, which are important not only for their intrinsic value but for the many cultural, health and economic benefits they provide to society.


These ecosystems are essential to Southeast Florida’s quality of life and economy. Natural areas such as wetlands and forests provide many valuable services, such as holding flood waters and recharging the drinking water aquifer. Coral reefs, estuaries and mangroves provide critical habitats that are vital to fisheries and support the fishing, diving and eco-tourism  industries. Coastal systems also serve as the front lines of defense from storms, waves and erosion and help to reduce risk. Beaches and dunes protect the coast while providing a key attraction for millions of visitors.


Natural systems also serve as a key solution to climate challenges — increasing adaptive capacity through attenuation of flooding, mitigating heat island effects, improving air and water quality, as well reducing emissions through carbon sequestration. The ocean and coastal ecosystems — or “blue carbon” ecosystems — also play a key role in removing and storing carbon. Ensuring that these natural areas survive and thrive into the future is essential to efforts to address the root causes of climate change and to build resilience to impacts.


In Southeast Florida, it is often said that the environment is the lifeblood of our economy. There are several analyses that support this assertion. An economic valuation analysis commissioned by the Everglades Foundation found that the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) could generate an increase in economic benefits of approximately $46.5 billion from restoration alone[1]. A 2004 study indicated that Biscayne Bay contributed roughly $6.3 billion in income to Miami-Dade County residents, 137,600 jobs and $627 million in tax revenue to the county[2]. And Florida coral reefs are estimated to generate $4.4 billion in local sales, $2 billion in local income and 70,400 jobs[3].


In the face of mounting climate change impacts, aggressive action is needed to ensure that these natural areas and the species they support are not lost. Thoughtful land-use planning, resource management strategies, protection and restoration efforts can help build the resilience of natural systems and support species and habitats to adapt, migrate or transition. As we adapt infrastructure to changing climate conditions, intentional planning will be required to ensure connection to and expanded integration of nature-based solutions.


[1] McCormick, B. et al. (2010). Measuring the Economic Benefits of America’s Everglades Restoration: An Economic Evaluation of Ecosystem Services Affiliated with the World’s Largest Ecosystem Restoration Project. Mather Economics.

[2] Johns, G. (2004). Biscayne Bay Economic Study. Hazen and Sawyer.

[3] Towle, E., et al. (2020). Coral Reef Conditions: A Status Report for Florida’s Coral Reefs. U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Conservation Program.

Resources for implementing Natural Systems recommendations. Read More