Everglades restoration is based on historical ecological trends in the river of grass, but south Florida’s climate is changing. Can the Everglades be saved? (Hint: It will take a while.)
We explore this in the final episode of DRAINED, a podcast from WMFE and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, about the massive plan to save the Everglades. WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green wades into the controversy around one of the most ambitious environmental restoration efforts ever undertaken.
Listen by clicking on the player above or read the transcript below.
PHILIP TIPPING: “There is the weevil there. He’s kind of a gray-brown. He’s freezing up. If he sees your shadow he drops, as I said earlier.
“It’s kind of a nondescript weevil. Nothing fancy. He blends in very, very well with the background.”
AMY GREEN: Between his fingers Philip Tipping holds the long narrow leaves of a weakened tree. Tipping is dressed in a blue shirt and khaki pants and wearing a floppy canvas hat. On one leaf is the weevil, an insect so small I can hardly see it in the midday sunlight.
PHILIP TIPPING: “To me, that’s the hero of the biocontrol-of-melaleuca story in Florida.
“He’s got some chevrons on his back. But now he’s starting to move. Pretty soon he’s gonna, he might fly. I’m gonna put him right back on the tree, though. He still has some eating to do.”AMY GREEN: I’m Amy Green.
From WMFE and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, this is DRAINED — a podcast series about the massive plan to save the Everglades.
Episode 4, “Neverending restoration.”
The river of grass, even in its reduced state, remains the nation’s largest subtropical wilderness. It alights the imagination as a veritable Garden of Eden, with creeping vegetation and reptilian, other-worldly creatures like the Burmese python, a snake that is among the largest on Earth measuring 23 feet or more in length and weighing 200 pounds.
But some of these plants and animals, like the python, do not belong in the Everglades. They are invasive.
PHILIP TIPPING: “These trees do not look very good. They’ve been chewed up pretty good.”
AMY GREEN: Few invasive plants of the Everglades are more infamous than the melaleuca, a tall and narrow tree from Australia that can grow as high as 65 feet, with curling, peeling bark and an aroma of Eucalyptus.
PHILIP TIPPING: “My name is Philip Tipping. I’m the research leader here at the Invasive Plant Research Laboratory.
“When this tree invades, it turns basically marshland, all kinds of, any habitat you want to mention including just sawgrass prairies, into forests of melaleuca. It utterly transformed the landscape, changed all the burn cycles. It affected nutrient levels. It affected wildlife. It out-competed other plants.”
AMY GREEN: The melaleuca was introduced in south Florida a century ago as an ornamental and also because the tree was believed to be thirsty enough that it would help drain the Everglades – a living embodiment of humankind’s conquest of the river of grass.
PHILIP TIPPING: “You can see they’re scoring the leaves here, just removing the plant tissue.”
AMY GREEN: Today the melaleuca would be easy to dismiss as yet another weed of the Everglades if its r...
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