Everglades National Park (Pic by Rodney Cammauf, National Park Service; via army.mil)

Environment Florida released its “Ten Scariest Facts About the Everglades” at a press conference coinciding with Halloween.

Several volunteers with Environment Florida dressed up as swamp monsters for this morning’s press conference, which was held in Miami. Gary Matthews, who runs an airboat tour company in the Everglades, also spoke at the event.

In a press release, the group said the Everglades is “haunted by agricultural and sewage pollution” and is “slowly collapsing” due to phosphorus pollution and invasive species.

“From mega agribusiness to over development the Everglades are disappearing and we must do more to protect our state’s treasure,” said Environment Florida’s Paul Rolfe. “We need stronger rules for polluters, ensured protections for Florida’s streams, and we need to protect the U.S. Environment Protection Agency’s ability to take action.”

The report comes just as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering new rules that would restore Clean Water Act safeguards to waters that feed the Everglades, and reduce agricultural runoff and sewage pollution from entering its ecosystem. Congress is currently considering rolling back existing protections for clean water, a move that Environment Florida adamantly opposes.

Among Environment Florida’s top 10 “scariest facts” regarding the Everglades are overdevelopment, agriculture and the abundance of invasive species.

The full list:

  • Over the last 100 years, the Everglades have shrunk to less than half their original size as agricultural and residential development in the region expands. The process has been accelerated over the last 30 years by the growth of the sugar industry and skyrocketing development of Florida’s east coast.
  • Due to recent decisions made by the Supreme Court, 29% of streams in Florida are at risk of losing their Clean Water Act protections.
  • Water from Everglades National Park and other areas drains into the Biscayne Aquifer, which is the source of drinking water for Dade, Broward and some Palm Beach County residents. Meaning more than 7.7 million people depend on the Everglades for drinking water. Without the Everglades to “recharge” this underground water supply, the aquifer would be in danger of running dry or being contaminated by salt water.
  • The Everglades has among the highest mercury levels in fish in Florida. The average male Florida panther has higher estrogen levels than females, due to the estrogenic properties of mercury in the fish they eat. The mercury comes from coal-fired power plants and industrial facilities like cement plants.
  • Polluted runoff from nearby sugarcane and other agricultural operations as well as encroaching urban sprawl significantly alters the Everglades’ complex and unique water chemistry. This year, the SFWMD acknowledged that even if pollution loading to Lake Okeechobee stopped today, it would take more than 20 years for water quality in the Lake to be restored.
  • South Florida Water Management District currently allows discharge of water into the Everglades that contains 9 times more phosphorus than allowed under the Clean Water Act. This creates what is called nutrient pollution that causes harmful algae blooms.
  • Nutrient pollution causes algae blooms that take oxygen out of the water, suffocating much of the natural flora and fauna. More than 25 percent of the remaining Everglades has been damaged by excessive nutrient pollution. Clean-up of Everglades phosphorus pollution was supposed to be completed by 2012, but the state legislature extended it to 2016. Now Gov. Rick Scott is requesting the deadline be pushed to 2022 and asking for millions more dollars.
  • Phosphorus levels in Lake Okeechobee are 3.5 times higher than recommended, causing algae blooms and other indicators of profound imbalances. Wastewater utilities dry sludge from sewage treatment plants and spread it on fields in the Lake Okeechobee watershed as a disposal method. Sludge contributes nearly a quarter of the phosphorous in the watershed.
  • Around 1913, water levels in Lake Okeechobee dropped from around 22-feet above mean sea level to about 15-feet above mean sea level, primarily to provide flood control. By maintaining the lake at these lower levels, the Everglades system has also lost its single largest place to store water.
  • Pythons are an invasive species in the Everglades, eating small mammals and disrupting the natural food chain. In the last 4 years, more than 230 pythons have been found in the park. At 19 feet long, they also pose a threat to humans. In the Everglades 26 percent of all resident mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish are not native to the region, and South Florida has one of the largest non-indigenous faunal communities in the world.
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