Nonnative species can wreak havoc on ecosystems. The Everglades suffer from this more than many other areas, with the Everglades considered one of the national parks most severely impacted by exotic plants. Due to resulting disturbances to the natural water system, this impacts the rest of the vegetation in the ecosystem and local drinking water. One supermarket chain is lending a hand to help.
Publix is committing $2 million to help remove invasive plants throughout 1,000 acres of Everglades wetlands. The money will go toward projects at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the saline glades in Everglades National Park. The goal is to restore the habitats and return roughly 174 million gallons of water annually to the environment.
Publix CEO Todd Jones says, “A clean water supply is fundamental to the health and wellness of our communities. Through these collaborations with the National Audubon Society and the National Park Foundation, we are deepening our commitment to water stewardship by protecting, restoring and conserving an area that supplies nearly 8 million Floridians with fresh water every day and provides a critical natural habitat for endangered native species.”
The National Audubon Society will receive part of the donation to help remove invasive willows and other plants from Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in the western Everglades. The rest will tackle Australian pine trees in the saline glades of the eastern portion of Everglades National Park. Funding for that will go to the National Park Foundation.
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Julie Wraithmell, executive director of Audubon Florida, says, “In Florida, our quality of life and prosperity depend upon a healthy environment. Publix’s ambitious restoration initiative at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary will not only improve the habitat for iconic Florida species like the wood stork, but it is an investment in the quality of life for downstream communities in Naples, Bonita Springs and more.”
With regard to the National Park Foundation project, the National Park Service says dense thickets of Australian pine displace native dune and beach vegetation, including mangroves and other native beach-adapted species. The trees impact the light, temperature, and soil chemistry of beach habitats and push out native plants in the process. They also destroy habitat for native insects and other wildlife.
The NPS explains, “The ground below Australian pine trees becomes ecologically sterile and lacking in food value for native wildlife. Unlike native shrubbery, the thick, shallow roots of the Australian pine make it much more susceptible to blow-over during high wind events, leading to increased beach and dune erosion and interference with the nesting activities of sea turtles and American crocodiles.”
The plants Publix is helping to remove also cause disturbances in natural water processes by absorbing rainfall before it can get into the underground aquifers that supply southern Floridians with drinking water. In addition, they wipe out native plant species that can convert saltwater to fresh water.
The impacts to the environment can be harmful to many key species, as well. The Everglades are home to 39 species that are endangered, threatened, or candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Those include the manatee, American crocodile, Florida panther, and a variety of turtles.Whizzco