The natural environment is a key driver of population growth and tourism in Southeast Florida. The Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay, FloridaKeys, Biscayne Bay, coastal beaches and coral reefs, Lake Okeechobee, Indian River Lagoon, and the Everglades, which nearly encircle the region, are among the region’s greatest natural and economic assets. However, they have been diminished by encroaching development and environmental contamination due to population growth and engineered alterations to natural drainage systems. That has led to the altered delivery of water, declining water quality, continued loss of habitat, and impaired ecosystem function. Those problems will be exacerbated by the added stressor of climate change, and fixing them must be a national, state, regional, and local priority. The solutions are only possible at the regional scale using a whole system approach. An example is the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, a $13.5 billion restoration plan covering over an 18,000 square-mile area that is described as the world’s largest ecosystem restoration. Also important to protecting natural systems and the region’s food and energy security is the preservation of a viable agricultural economy. That could include connecting local growers and urban dwellers, particularly in communities with little access to affordable healthy food options, and facilitating agriculture’s role in the production of renewable energy sources. Conservation of agricultural land uses and community gardening on larger scales will need to be considered.
The Partnership must clearly define how it will cooperatively work to both restore and protect, in perpetuity, the major environmental systems, fresh water supplies, and food sources within and surrounding it. That restoration is all the more critical if the region’s natural systems are to be resilient when impacted by major disasters such as hurricanes, extreme storm surges, sea level rise, and fluctuations in rainfall.