As a Miamian, I’m proud of the fact that we are the only major city in the country sandwiched between two national parks – Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park. There are precious few landscapes in America as impressive as the Everglades, and none as definitively iconic to its home state. That’s why the first place I tell visitors to see – or anyone who lives here for that matter – is the Everglades.
In order to understand Greater Miami’s rich history, you first have to understand this incredible World Heritage Site. If you start there and work your way east, you’ll have a deeper understanding of and greater appreciation for the South Beaches and Wynwoods which are often the only faces of Miami people see.
The land that a majority of Miamians live on was once the Everglades. Miami International Airport? Downtown Dadeland? Doral? All wetlands. We’ve literally carved our city out of the River of Grass.
Aside from its natural beauty, the health of the Everglades directly impacts the health of our city and everyone who calls Greater Miami home.
Your water: Our water quality is superb because it is filtered through the Biscayne Aquifer, which is recharged by the Everglades.
The economy: The Everglades is a cornerstone of the regional economy, supporting our multibillion-dollar tourism industry.
Our wildlife: The Everglades is home to more than 70 threatened or endangered species.
Once spanning nearly eight million acres, drainage and development have whittled it down significantly. What remains is an altered landscape out of sync with our region’s larger ecology. In addition to the consequences of years of “ditching and diking,” the Everglades faces ever-increasing threats from climate change. The relentless, unequivocal rise in sea levels, for which Miami-Dade County is ground zero, is the greatest threat ever faced by the people who live here. Rising seas will impact every aspect of our quality of life, and restoring the natural flow of the River of Grass is key to combating that threat.
Balancing the needs of urban development, agriculture and the Everglades, in the face of rapid global change, is our challenge. Ensuring our continued livelihood depends on rethinking our relationship with the water around us and living WITH it, rather than using canals and locks to get rid of it.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to visit the Everglades. Whether on an airboat ride, bike or nature walk, get out there, enjoy its beauty and understand first-hand the magnitude of its significance. With the National Parks Service celebrating its centennial, this is the perfect time to visit.
Javier Alberto Soto is President and CEO of the Miami Foundation.