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Published on: News

Florida’s Gems are Under Threat

published on: March 4, 2020

Florida’s natural areas (what we call Gems) face ever-increasing threats from rampant development, water pollution, and climate change, but investments in conservation and management can ensure healthy natural areas and communities for years to come.

According to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida welcomes nearly 1,000 new residents every day. Future development should protect our natural infrastructure like fresh and saltwater wetlands that efficiently recharge our aquifers, store and treat stormwater, and reduce impacts from hurricanes and sea level rise. Adequate water supply is critical to both natural systems and human populations. Many of Florida’s crystal-clear springs and abundant rivers have been over-pumped to unsustainable levels. While many areas of Florida received more than 50 inches of rain annually, periods of low rainfall can lead to drought conditions, and many coastal areas, especially estuaries, require a delicate balance of salt and freshwater to thrive. Therefore, it’s critical to maintain minimum flows and levels in freshwater systems through proactive permitting and aggressive water conservation measures. The availability of freshwater becomes more uncertain as our air temperatures become warmer and our weather patterns more unpredictable. Climate change is already impacting Florida’s natural areas, from saltwater intrusion to beach erosion.

Rising sea levels and abutting coastal development reduce the function of crucial habitat areas. Communities both coastal and inland face sea level rise, flooding, and the catastrophic effects of stronger storms. Our beaches and barrier islands are eroding at alarming rates as saltwater threatens to contaminate freshwater resources further. Coastal wetlands act as the first line of defense, protecting wildlife habitat and communities against wind and storm surge. Sea-level rise will change where we live, and will further exacerbate the destruction of wildlife habitat, making protecting wildlife corridors and habitat more urgent than ever. Building new highways and toll roads will slice through our last undeveloped areas, bringing new pollution streams, destroying viable wildlife habitat, and weakening wetlands and aquifer recharge areas. Roads and highways convert natural and agricultural areas to developed suburban landscapes, decreasing the long-term food and water security of our state. Concrete parking lots and strip malls could soon replace the last of Florida’s wide-open spaces if we do not act now.

Florida is one of the states most vulnerable to climate change, and protecting land is the most effective way to ensure our state is livable in the future. Moving forward, we must plan for tomorrow by investing today. If we act now, we can protect Florida, forever. Right now, your legislators are deciding what programs to prioritize. While the Florida Senate has proposed $125 million for Florida Forever, the House has lagged behind at a measly $20 million – 80% less than the Governor’s recommended $100 million. The budget this year must get us closer to at least $300 million in order to fully fund Florida Forever and save our remaining lands from development. 

The Legislature is moving forward with a budget that underfunds Florida Forever, as they have for the past ten years. Your purchase of a Gems Report makes our continued conservation advocacy work possible. Our legislative team is working tirelessly to tell the water and land conservation story, and our Gems Reports are an essential educational tool for legislators. You can help us continue to hand these reports out at the Capitol by purchasing a copy of your own. 

Florida’s land and water are up against the odds – but thanks to supporters like you, we can continue the fight for our natural resources.