Environment of Florida facts for kids

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The environment of Florida in the United States yields an array of land and marine life in a mild subtropical climate. This environment has drawn millions of people to settle in the once rural state over the last hundred years. Florida's population increases by about 1,000 residents each day. Land development and water use have transformed the state, primarily through drainage and infill of the wetlands that once covered most of the peninsula.

Much of Florida consists of karst limestone veined with water-filled caves and sinkholes, which provide homes to many species of aquatic life, some unique to particular Florida locations. As urban and suburban development have increased over the last decades, demand for groundwater has also risen, resulting in damage and drying out of portions of the cave system. This has led to ground subsidence as dry caves collapse, threatening property as well as ecosystems.

Restoration of the Everglades has long been recognized as an environmental priority in the state. In 2000, Congress passed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, a $7.8 billion, 30-year project aimed at preservation and restoration of the region and its unique combination of environments.

History

Population growth and development

USACE Ortona Lock and Dam
Ortona Lock and Dam, on the Caloosahatchee River, part of the Okeechobee Waterway, in Glades County, Florida, a part of the Army Corps of Engineers project to control water flow in the Everglades.

The 1900 United States Census identified only four cities in the state of Florida with more than 5,000 inhabitants: Jacksonville, Pensacola, Key West, and Tampa. The total population of the state was recorded as 528,542. The southern third of the state was sparsely populated, and much of it was partially submerged marshlands. A few attempts at diverting the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to the land to the south had occurred as early as the 1880s, but it was not until the election of Governor Napoleon B. Broward in 1904 that any significant drainage occurred. Broward had campaigned on a platform that included draining the Everglades and selling off the resulting land. Beginning in 1906, and continuing until 1913, over 225 miles (360 km) of canals were dug, creating the Miami Canal, the North New River Canal, and the South New River Canal. An even more ambitious and expansive program followed, resulting in the construction of six large drainage canals and numerous smaller canals, totaling 440 miles (710 km); 47 miles (76 km) of levees; and 16 locks and dams over a 14-year period, from 1913-1927. As land was reclaimed from the Everglades, farmers moved in. Vast farming areas sprang up in southeastern Florida and the northern Everglades. Development was further spurred by the Florida land boom of the 1920s, during which a speculative wave resulted in a frenzy of planning, land redevelopment, and construction continued until 1926, when the bubble burst. Between 1926 and the beginning of World War II, growth in the state was slow and relatively stable.

As World War II came to an end, thousands of people moved to Florida, bringing about a sharp population increase. The state's population in 1940 was 1,897,414; in 1950, it was 2,771,305, an increase of 46.1 percent.

The Tampa Bay area and South Florida were the biggest-growth areas, although almost all of the coastal areas along the peninsula saw strong growth.

By 1945, a prolonged drought in Florida spotlighted the first signs of the consequences of altering the environment. Saltwater intrusion became an issue in wells in the southern part of the state, and large wildfires consumed parcels of farmland, destroying the peat which had made the land so fertile. Prior to instituting controlled burns, the state forests and pastures burned for months during the dry season. From the 1940s to the 1970s, the state and federal government assumed control of burning that prevented uncontrolled fires. In 2010, the state burned a record 2,600,000 acres (11,000 km2).

Extensive flooding in 1947, during which 90 percent of the state south of Orlando was underwater, made it clear that the current drainage projects were not beneficial to the environment, to farmers, or to the developing cities. 1947 was also the year that Everglades National Park was dedicated, and the year in which Marjory Stoneman Douglas published The Everglades: River of Grass, which warned of the damage that had occurred to the fragile ecosystem. The following year, the state of Florida created the agency which eventually became the South Florida Water Management District, responsible for water quality, flood control, water supply and environmental restoration in 16 counties, from Orlando to the Florida Keys.

To control flooding, the Kissimmee River was straightened from 1962 to 1970. While the project delivered on the promise of flood protection, it also destroyed much of a floodplain-dependent ecosystem that nurtured threatened and endangered species, as well as hundreds of other native fish and wetland-dependent animals. More than 90 percent of the waterfowl that once graced the wetlands disappeared and the number of bald eagle nesting territories decreased by 70 percent. After the waterway was transformed into a straight, deep canal, it became oxygen-depleted and the fish community it supported changed dramatically. It is expected to be completed in 2011.

During the 1960s and 1970s, continued growth along both coasts of the state and along Interstate 4 increased the strain on the ecosystems of the state. Portions of Big Cypress Swamp were drained for development, until the creation of Big Cypress National Preserve in 1974. Additional acreage was added to Everglades National Park in 1989. In 2000, Congress passed a federal effort to restore the Everglades, named the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), with the objectives of "restoration, preservation and protection of the south Florida ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region." and claiming to be the largest environmental restoration in history. The plan involves cooperation between the federal government, state, and local governments, and encompasses 18,000 square miles (47,000 km2) in 16 counties. It is estimated that completion of the program will take 30 years, at an approximate cost of $7.8 Billion.

As the Southeast Florida area approached buildout, growth shifted to more rural areas in central and north Florida. Between 2000 and 2006, Flagler County was the fastest growing county in the nation, and both Osceola County and St. Johns County were among the 25 fastest growing; Flagler County was identified as a Metropolitan Statistical Area on 18 December 2006. The sharp growth in Flagler County (and neighboring St. Johns County) has had a negative impact on the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, endangers wildlife such as manatees and bears, and threatens the water supply for the region.

Resources

Water

Florida obtains much of its drinking water from the Floridan Aquifer and the Biscayne Aquifer, as well as from surface water from Lake Okeechobee and other lakes, but population increases have begun to strain available sources. The state has built 120 desalination plants, more than three times as many as any other state, including the largest plant in the United States. Additionally, an electrodialysis reversal plant in Sarasota is the largest of its type in the world, and a nanofiltration plant in Boca Raton is the largest of its type in the Western Hemisphere.

Energy

Crystal River NPP01
Crystal River North steam complex, in Crystal River, Florida

Florida ranks forty-fifth in total energy consumption per capita, despite the heavy reliance on air conditioners and pool pumps. This includes coal, natural gas, petroleum, and retail electricity sales. It is estimated that approximately 4 percent of energy in the state is generated through renewable resources. Florida's energy production is 6.0% of the nation's total energy output, while total production of pollutants is lower, with figures of 5.6 percent for nitrogen oxide, 5.1 percent for carbon dioxide, and 3.5 percent for sulfur dioxide.

There are two oil-producing areas in Florida. One is in South Florida, with 14 fields, and the other is in the western panhandle, with seven fields. The South Florida fields are located in Lee, Hendry, and Collier county. Florida’s first oil field, the Sunniland field, in Collier County, was discovered in 1943. It has since produced over 18 million barrels of oil. Subsequently, 13 more field discoveries were found. Although these fields are relatively small, production is significant. Together, the three Felda fields (West Felda, Mid-Felda, and Sunoco Felda) in Hendry County have produced over 54 million barrels of oil.

Production in the western panhandle began with the discovery of the Jay field in June 1970. Jay is the largest oil field discovered in North America since the discovery on the Alaskan North Slope of the giant Prudhoe Bay field in 1968. Since then, an additional six oil fields have been discovered in the western panhandle of Florida. North Florida has dominated Florida oil production since the discovery of the Jay field. North Florida oil fields account for 83 percent of the state’s cumulative production, with the Jay field alone responsible for 71 percent of the state’s cumulative production.

It is believed that significant energy resources are located off of Florida's western coast in the Gulf of Mexico, but that region has been closed to exploration since 1981.

In July 2007, Florida Governor Charlie Crist announced plans to sign executive orders that would impose strict new air-pollution standards in the state, with aims to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. Crist's orders would set new emissions targets for power companies, automobiles and trucks, and toughen conservation goals for state agencies and require state-owned vehicles to use alternative fuels. Governor Charlie Crist and both of Florida's senators, Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez, oppose offshore drilling and exploration. Former governor Jeb Bush, originally opposed to all drilling, changed his position on a bill introduced into the House of Representatives in 2005, which would allow unrestricted drilling 125 miles (201 km) or more from the coast. Martinez, Nelson, and Crist opposed that bill, but Martinez and Nelson voted for a Senate alternative which prohibited drilling within 125 miles (201 km) of the Panhandle coast, and 235 miles (378 km) of the peninsular coast.

It is believed that significant petroleum resources are located off Florida's western coast in the Gulf of Mexico, but that region has been closed to exploration since 1981.

In 2006, the state enacted "Farm to Fuel" initiative, an effort to increase production of renewable energy from crops, agricultural wastes and residues produced in the state of Florida. On 22 January 2008, Florida's Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner announced funding for four commercial ethanol and biodiesel production facilities, and an additional eight demonstration and research projects.

Parks and beaches

See also: List of Florida state parks
BahiaHonda
The beach at Bahia Honda in the Florida Keys
FLCaverns-Jan2007
Caverns at Florida Caverns State Park

In 2017 about half of the state's sandy beaches were eroding. About half of these were covered by a beach project.

Areas under control of the National Park Service include:

Areas under the control of the USDA United States Forest Service include:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Ocean Service is responsible for one sanctuary:

  • Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Biodiversity

Florida is a biodiverse state, with 3,500 native vascular plants and 1,500 vertebrates, a higher number than all but three other states. A 2003 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization study stated that the Florida Straits had the highest biodiversity in the Atlantic Ocean, and were the home to 25 endemic species.

Starr 031108-0008 Melaleuca quinquenervia
Stand of Melaleuca in the Everglades

Flora

In 2005 Red tide was an issue on the southwest coast of Florida. While there has been a great deal of conjecture over the cause of the toxic algae bloom, there is no evidence that it is being caused by pollution or that there has been an increase in the duration or frequency of red tide outbreaks.

Prior to instituting controlled burns, the state forests and pastures burned for months during the dry season. From the 1940s to the 1970s, the state and federal government assumed control of burning that largely prevented uncontrolled fires. In 2010, the state burned a record 2,600,000 acres (11,000 km2).

Fauna

Florida Scrub Jay
The Florida scrub jay is found only in Florida.
See also: List of wild mammal species of Florida and List of Florida birds

Endemic species in Florida include the Florida scrub jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens), Miami blue (Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri), Okaloosa darter (Etheostoma okaloosae), and Key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium).

Florida is a popular destination for birdwatching, because of the many species that can be found in the state at various times of the year. The Florida Ornithological Society maintains the official state list of the birds of Florida, which currently contains 498 species. A study published in 2003 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission documented 196 species of birds which were confirmed to breed in the state, with an additional 19 species listed as possible or probable breeders. The Great Florida Birding Trail, a 2000-mile (3200 km) long trail, is composed of 489 locations throughout the state which are optimal observation sites.

Sport fishing is also popular in Florida; over 250 different species of fishes (including 73 non-native species) can be found in Florida. There are more than 1000 species of fish in Florida's inshore waters.

In 2010, NOAA, citing the Magnuson-Stevens Act, banned fishing of red snapper until the population has time to recover.

Florida's Atlantic coast is home to the only extensive coral reefs in the continental United States, and the third largest in the world. The entire reef system in the Florida Keys is encompassed by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and significant portions of reef are protected as part of Biscayne National Park.

In 1977, the federal government placed alligators on the endangered list. They were removed from the endangered list in 1987 and Florida permitted selective hunting in 1988.

Bird and turtle habitats

In 1987, Florida hosted the last member of the dusky seaside sparrow, now extinct. There have been only two such avian failures since listing of endangered species began in 1973. This event has presented a challenge to ensure that other environmental concerns are addressed in a timely manner.

The Florida scrub jay has been thought to be threatened for many years, because the species is territorial and cannot move to better grounds when its habitat is jeopardized.

Nesting beaches of loggerhead sea turtles are protected.

Invasive species

Platydemus manokwari in Florida PeerJ2015 fig-1-full
Platydemus manokwari in Florida

Native flora is threatened by various invasive plants, including the Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius). Possession and cultivation of this tree is illegal. Large numbers of volunteers periodically cut down these invaders, particularly along waterways. The Australian pine (Casuarina spp.) is being actively controlled to prevent it from spreading.

Other foreign pests include the Asian ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus) threatens the local avocado industry and redbay trees (Persea borbonia).

It is illegal to import giant African land snails (Achatina fulica). These threaten buildings, 500 types of local plants, and carry meningitis.

In 2015, the land flatworm Platydemus manokwari was reported from Miami. It is a highly invasive species, and, as a predator of snails, a threat to biodiversity.


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