Kate Stein, Scientific American, June 21, 2019

Fishing captain Brett Greco has spent nearly half his life guiding anglers in pursuit of tarpon, bonefish, snook, redfish, permit and sea trout in the rich waters of Florida Bay. “You could go fishing 100 days for 100 different things here,” the 40-year-old says. But the bay’s fish population plummeted after a huge die-off of seagrass in 2015, taking a bite out of Florida Keys fishing businesses such as Greco’s for the better part of two years.

The die-off was a symptom of the declining health of the bay, which lies between the Florida Keys and the mainland. It is part of the famed Everglades—a complex system of saw grass, mangroves and seagrass that is crucial to southern Florida’s water supplies, storm protection, fishing and tourism. Historically, fresh water flowed smoothly into the bay from the Everglades’ headwaters near present-day Orlando. But development and flood-protection canals have carved up this “river of grass,” causing drought conditions in some areas and flooding in others and contributing to repeated seagrass die-offs in the bay. To address this and other environmental concerns, in 2000 Congress and Florida’s state government launched the multibillion-dollar, multidecade Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which includes dozens of projects to improve water flow. It recently received a $2.5-billion cash infusion in an executive order from Florida’s new governor, Ron DeSantis.

But the restoration—which is far from complete and years behind schedule—faces growing threats from climate change: sea-level rise is pushing saltwater farther inland, and rainfall and temperatures are deviating from the historical patterns the initial plan was based on. The same challenge has emerged for other restoration projects around the world, from wetland preservation in Louisiana to river management and flood control in the Netherlands. Experts say it is crucial to closely monitor changing conditions and adapt plans along the way, or hard-won environmental gains could be lost. But the Everglades efforts are struggling to do so because of the complexity and cost involved and a fear that spending time and resources on an ecosystem-wide reassessment would slow progress on critical projects.

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