Environmental Themes in Grapes Term Paper

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[. . .] The Everglades would be confined to one million acres within the levees and the shallow marsh of Everglades National Park (Douglas, 1997).

This federal act called for the control of water levels though a network of pumps and roughly 1,400 miles of canals and levees. "Within the Everglades, the project created five enormous impoundments, the water conservation areas, running through western sections of Palm Beach, Broward and Dad counties, and ending at the northern edge of Everglades National Park" (Douglas, 422). Water would be stored to carry to the cities during winter months, then dumped to make room for the summer hurricane rains. The cost would run well over half a billion dollars. The Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District was created to buy the needed land and operate and maintain the project (Douglas, 1997).

This project represented a fundamental change in the attitude of South Florida towards itself. An era of failure had ended. It was now a time of technological advancement, and the Army engineers with their better knowledge of control and movement of water, would succeed in a massive alteration of the landscape (Douglas, 1997). Now with the flip of a switch, farmers could have flood waters removed or have irrigation water sent to them during dry spells. Even though conservation of natural resources was one of the official aims of the project, these were engineers not biologists, as Douglas points out. They were skilled at moving water, not raising wood storks. One estimate in 1870 gave South Florida 2.5 million wading birds. By 1974, the population had been reduced by 90% (Douglas, 1997).

When the vast colonies of wading birds vanished, exotic plants invaded parched wetlands throughout the ecosystem. Cattails replaced the native sawgrass in marshes now polluted by fertilizers in the northern Everglades. Dangerously high levels of mercury have been discovered in the tissues and eggs of wildlife. Salty water has been pushed inland, contaminating aquifers and killing fresh water wetland plants (Douglas, 1997). Everglades National Park has been fighting for its life, as urban development and diversions of water endangered it and the ten other national parks and refuges throughout the Everglades ecosystem (Douglas, 1997).

In the 1990's something clicked and South Floridians began to heed the warnings that environmentalists had been sounding for decades. They finally began to see that the destruction of the natural resources was affecting their own water supplies, their economy and the lifestyle that drew them to Florida in the first place (Douglas, 1997). Florida Bay was on the verge of death. And this crisis helped push the Everglades' problems to the top of national environmental concerns. It also became a key issue for politicians in campaigns. Although there has been acts of legislation and much progress in the last few years towards saving the Everglades, Douglas maintains it hasn't been enough, and many fear it may simply too little too late (Douglas, 1997).

The wading bird populations have plummeted to less than a fifth of their numbers in the 1930's. There are fewer than fifty Florida panthers in the wild today. There has been serious damage to the estuaries. Fish with abnormal dorsal fins and misaligned scales have been found in several area waters including North Biscayne Bay. Coral reefs are suffering from bleaching, diseases, and a decline in coral cover (Douglas, 1997).

In 1994, the Everglades Forever Act became a state law. It laid out more than fifty restoration projects aimed at cleaning up the water flowing into the Everglades. The first phase calls for the state to buy roughly 44,000 acres of farmland and create six large wetlands to soak up phosphorus before water flows off farms into the Everglades (Douglas, 1997). Moreover, the project would improve the flow of water into the marshes of the conservation areas. The environmentalists quickly took issue with the sugar farmers and formed the Save Our Everglades Committee. After years of battling and debating, there seems to be real progress being made in South Florida, although there is a long road ahead. But there is a cooperation now between federal, state, and environmentalists that hasn't exited before (Douglas, 1997). Marjory Stoneman Douglas is known as the Mother of the Everglades. She died in 1998 at the age of 98. South Florida will forever be indebted to her unwavering defense of these marshes and swamps and her book will remain the bible of the ecosystem of the Everglades (Douglas, 1997).

Another Florida waterway that has gained the attention of environmentalists in the past few years is the St. Johns River, which begins almost unnoticeable in the swamps and savannahs and then flows northward to the Atlantic Ocean, running almost parallel to the coastline (Belleville, 2001). River of Lakes gives an accurate record of Bill Belleville's journey along the St. Johns River. Belleville, an environmental journalist and filmmaker, documented man's impact over thousands of years in artifacts and environmental conditions. He writes with awe and reverence, much in the same way as Douglas wrote about her Everglades (Belleville, 2001).

The St. Johns River has endured much the same destruction by the white man as the Everglades. In the 1800's, the lumber companies cut so much cypress that they put themselves out of business (Belleville, 2001). Habitats were literally erased when developers drained the marshes. This also reduced the volume of sea-bound water. Shell was trucked away to become fill for roadbeds, leaving the shell middens virtually destroyed (Belleville, 2001).

Belleville travels by kayak, houseboat and airboat to explore the life of the St. Johns. His empathy and respect for the area is much akin to that of the Native Americans of that region, And moreover, his poetic descriptions are akin to the Mother of the Everglades. When he observes tiger swallowtails in late spring as they are beginning to emerge from their chrysalis, he writes, "their great lacy yellow wings edged with black, looking like some Rorschach test, colorized and come to life. I sit on the stern, watching one doing its little butterfly dance, gliding from above the ever-closed yellow bud of the spadderdock lily, up into the leaves of the willow and hickory. Later, I will see the muted blue spring azure and then the black swallowtail, pure ebony spotted with white and blue, a distinctive frilly tail dabbling at the bottom of each ink-blotted wing. By fall, monarchs will move down across Florida in their long migration, stopping to rest on twigs and leaf edges, pumping their little wings like arabesque fans from a Victorian parlor" (Belleville, 146).

Belleville gives the reader a first hand view of the wild life he encounters along the way. A few of these include the white egret, which was almost hunted to extinction for its plummage, alligators, white heron and blue cranes, turkeys, bobcats, gray foxes, white tailed deer, fox squirrels, indigo snakes and burrowing owls (Belleville, 2001). When he encounters a small flock of wood storks, he is struck by the primeval appearance of the birds, "atop their snow-white bodies are black, crinkled necks and heads that taper into a beak as pronounced as the peak of a witch's cap" (Belleville, 28). The natives called these birds 'iron heads'. Due to decades of drainage that have disrupted their historic habitat of the Everglades, they have been forced to flee northward into the valley. However, a recent study by the National Audubon Society shows that ongoing marsh restoration in the upper basin seems to be recreating foraging habitat for the wood stork as well as other wading birds (Belleville, 2001).

Belleville explains that the entire lower part of the river is included in the National Estuary program. With, 2,777 square miles, the lower St. Johns is Florida's largest estuary (Belleville, 2001). Saltwater fish and shellfish have historically used this as a nursery for their larvae. It was a place to feed and hide while growing strong. Throughout the book he gives detailed accounts of the ecosystem such as, there are fifty-six species of fireflies in the state of Florida. Home to manatees and alligators, the St. Johns is tidal for 110 miles as it flows to the mouth of Lake George (Belleville, 2001).

Between 1900 and 1972, the historic marshland around the headwaters shrank from thirty miles to barely one mile in width, and the quality of the water suffered tragically. Belleville explains that without the cleansing function of the wetlands to filter the impurities, the entire river began loaded with sediment and agricultural chemicals (Belleville, 2001). Most of the forty-six tributaries that had once seeped over the marshes and wooded swamps were, by the early 1970's, surging ditch-like into the upper river channel from the western ridge (Belleville, 2001). In the early 1980's, the water managers in the St. Johns Basin decided to attempt to balance ecology with farming needs. This included such means as the use of natural reservoirs to filter pollutants and store water. This would also provide habitat for wildlife.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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