Southeast Florida’s native species and 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 and pine rockland forests 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. Climate change threatens many of these natural assets, which are important not only for their inherent biological values, but for the many cultural, health, and economic benefits they provide to society.
These “ecosystem services,” such as the absorption of flood waters and drinking water aquifer recharge provided by freshwater wetlands and forests, are essential elements of Southeast Florida’s economic success and local quality of life. Coral reefs and mangroves are vital to commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as the dive tourism industry—they also serve as the front lines of defense against storm-driven flooding and erosion. Beaches and dunes also protect the coast while providing a key attraction for millions of visitors.
As the sea rises and rainfall patterns change, these natural systems may not be able to persist in their current locations. People must ensure that there is a place for natural systems, the species they support, and the services they provide. Thoughtful land-use planning and land acquisition programs can help ensure species and habitats can adapt, migrate, or transition.
The following strategies recommend ways for all levels of government to maintain natural areas, rare and endangered native species populations, ecosystem services, and the nature-dependent industries that underpin the region’s economy.