, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 497-521

Ecosystem management to achieve ecological sustainability: The case of South Florida

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Abstract

The ecosystems of South Florida are unique in the world. The defining features of the natural Everglades (large spatial scale, temporal patterns of water storage and sheetflow, and low nutrient levels) historically allowed a mosaic of habitats with characteristic animals. Massive hydrological alterations have halved the Everglades, and ecological sustainability requires fundamental changes in management.

The US Man and the Biosphere Human-Dominated Systems Directorate is conducting a case study of South Florida using ecosystem management as a framework for exploring options for mutually dependent sustainability of society and the environment. A new methodology was developed to specify sustainability goals, characterize human factors affecting the ecosystem, and conduct scenario/consequence analyses to examine ecological and societal implications. South Florida has sufficient water for urban, agricultural, and ecological needs, but most water drains to the sea through the system of canals; thus, the issue is not competition for resources but storage and management of water. The goal is to reestablish the natural system for water quantity, timing, and distribution over a sufficient area to restore the essence of the Everglades.

The societal sustainability in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) is at risk because of soil degradation, vulnerability of sugar price supports, policies affecting Cuban sugar imports, and political/economic forces aligned against sugar production. One scenario suggested using the EAA for water storage while under private sugar production, thereby linking sustainability of the ecological system with societal sustainability. Further analyses are needed, but the US MAB project suggests achieving ecological sustainability consistent with societal sustainability may be feasible.