We are working with partners at research centers in Botswana, Brazil, Mexico, and Australia, as well as in the Florida Everglades. Research centers near several of the world's most important wetland systems that are under significant use and development pressure offer the opportunity to conduct research that is oriented toward defining problems and devising solutions.
The 4 million acres of the so called "River of Grass" in extreme south Florida was the crown jewel of a wetland landscape that once covered nearly 9 million acres in central-southern Florida. Today, the once free flowing Everglades has been altered by the construction of 1000 miles of canals and 720 miles of levees and water flow is controlled by 16 pump stations and 200 gates and other water control structures. About one-half of the Everglades have been converted to agriculture and urban uses. Among other significant impacts, about 90 to 95% of the wading bird population has been lost and 68 plant and animal species are now threatened or endangered. Pollution from human activities has altered many thousands of acres of Everglades marsh and because of mercury contamination, about one million acres of the ecosystem have been posted with health advisories regarding the eating of fish. Currently the State of Florida and the Federal Government have joined in a $7.8 billion project to "restore the Everglades ecosystem" that will cost an estimated $182 million each year to operate when completed.
The Okavango delta is one of the world's largest inland wetland/water systems. Its headwaters start in Angola's western highlands, then flow through Namibia, and finally enter Botswana, where it dead-ends in the Kalahari with over 95 per cent of the water eventually evaporating. The rivers flowing into the Okavango Delta originate outside Botswana where they are subject to withdrawals and damming. A transnational commission set up to develop policies related to water use is hampered by lack of resources, human capacity, and political will on the part of its members. Under significant pressure from local populations, tourist development, dams and other water extraction projects, the Delta offers important opportunities for research.
Extending through Central-West Brazil, eastern Bolivia and northeastern Paraguay, the Pantanal wetland system covers some 200,000 km2 during the rainy season. The Pantanal faces serious challenges from a myriad of socioeconomic pressures including mining, agriculture, and the construction of a major waterway that would link five South American countries: Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Bolivia.
Located at the northern fringe of the Northern Territory, the Kakadu Swamp is the largest terrestrial national park in Australia comprising almost 8,000 square miles of high stone plateau, forest woodland, monsoon rainforest to open savanna-like flood plains dotted with billabongs, and mangrove-fringed estuaries of the Arafura Sea. The Kakadu is not only home to wildlife but also holds the longest continuous surviving human culture in the world. The Kakadu's wetland systems are driven by a monsoon climate that produces torrential "wet" seasons, and mud-cracking "dry" seasons. The Kakadu faces threats from Jabiluka, a uranium ore body located within the park that has created serious controversy between various stakeholders.
The region consists of a low-elevation karst plain. Much of the seasonal rainfall percolates into the porous limestone. Water moves below ground to coastal areas that are characterized by wetlands, mangroves, and lagoons. Lacking surface rivers, Yucatan is unique among our study areas in having a largely "subterranean watershed." Coastal lagoons serve as nurseries for the marine fishery, a destination for eco-tourists, and habitat for an array of wetland/mangrove species. Rapid development on the north coast of Yucatan is altering hydrologic patterns and changing the nature of regional wetlands. Wetlands lie both outside and within protected areas (e.g., the Celestún and Rio Lagartos Reserves). Human-environment interactions have characterized the region for more than 3000 years, and the remnants of ancient Maya Civilization are found within wetland systems (e.g. X'cambó).
Adaptive Management: Wise Use of Water, Wetlands & Watersheds
is an NSF-funded IGERT program at the University of Florida