About the Everglades Ecohealth Report Card
The System Status Report assesses progress of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). This report is the work of RECOVER (REstoration COordination and VERification), an interagency team that directs the extensive program of ecosystem research and monitoring that supports implementation of the CERP. The System Status Report provides a comprehensive assessment of the impact of a myriad of projects being implemented throughout south Florida under the CERP. However, a mechanism was needed to communicate key findings on the conditions in the ecosystem to upper level managers, policy makers, and the public. Therefore, an ecosystem health report card was developed in parallel with the 2019 System Status Report.
An ecosystem health report card assesses and synthesizes environmental data to evaluate overall ecosystem condition. Similar to school report cards, ecosystem health report cards use performance-driven metrics compared against a goal or ecologically relevant threshold. Report cards integrate large, complex datasets into an overarching score or grade that’s easily understood by the public. Report cards are an important component of conservation and restoration planning in South Florida, as they are designed to clearly communicate the status of ecosystem health of the Florida Everglades to a broad audience.
How was health calculated?
Environmental report cards are used by resource managers to assess and report on the ecosystem health of a region. Developing rigorous, quantitative assessments provides accountability to support environmental protection efforts. A five-step process of developing report cards is used to assess progress: 1) determine values and threats, 2) choose indicators, 3) define thresholds, 4) calculate scores, and 5) communicate results. This report card provides a transparent, timely, and geographically detailed assessment of health in the Everglades using data from May 1, 2012–April 30, 2017. Everglades health is defined as the progress of region-specific indicators toward scientifically-derived thresholds, targets, or goals. The indicators for each region were developed by regional coordinators, principle investigators, and scientists with specific expertise in these regions. The indicators are combined into an overall region score for each of the four regions. These four region scores are area-weighted into an overall score for the entire Everglades system. The scoring system ranges from 0%–100%, with 100% as the best score, and 0% as the worst score.
Hydrology connects ecosystems in south Florida
The Everglades encompasses four regions interconnected by water—the Northern Estuaries (Caloosahatchee River Estuary,Loxahatchee River Estuary, and St. Lucie River Estuary), Lake Okeechobee, the Greater Everglades, and the Southern Coastal Systems (Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay, and Southwest Coast). When people talk about the Everglades, they are usually thinking about the Greater Everglades. This is a vast freshwater wetland mosaic composed of sawgrass ridges, sloughs, tree islands, and marl prairie.
Historically, the Greater Everglades received water flowing out of Lake Okeechobee at its northern end and discharged water south into the Southern Coastal Systems. The Northern Estuaries were isolated from outflow from the lake. Urban development and drainage for agriculture have disrupted this pattern. Water that used to flow south out of Lake Okeechobee is now redirected into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. The capacity of the freshwater wetlands to store water also has been lost.
These changes have degraded natural habitat needed by wildlife like fish and wading birds. Loss of water storage and connectivity diminishes options available to water managers to sustain natural ecosystems and satisfy the needs of south Florida residents for water supply and flood protection.
Restoration of the Everglades will improve conditions for both people and ecosystems and sustain the Everglades for generations to come. This is being done through numerous projects to improve conditions locally and through coordinated actions to improve conditions on a regional scale.