The harmful side effects of dredging and draining were apparent early in this century. In 1928 landscape architect Ernest Coe began a concentrated effort to designate a "Tropical Everglades National Park." His persistence paid off when he and others persuaded Congress to designate the Everglades as a national park in 1934. It took park supporters another 13 years to acquire land and secure funding. In 1947, Marjory Stoneman Douglas would publish The Everglades: River of Grass, a work that would come to greatly influence the public perception of the oft-misunderstood region. That same year, Everglades National Park officially opened, marking the first large-scale attempt to protect the area's unique biology. Today, the park comprises a vast wetland wilderness unlike any other in the world.
Despite these efforts, degradation of the ecosystem continued. Burgeoning land development and speculation schemes in the 1960s led to the partial draining of the Big Cypress swamp. Gradually scientists and the public came to realize that the Big Cypress watershed was the key to the survival of the Everglades and the integrity of the entire South Florida ecosystem. In 1968 plans to create a jetport at the swamp’s eastern edge sparked a movement to authorize a national preserve. The establishment of Big Cypress National Preserve in 1974 signaled an important compromise between pro-development and pro-conservation groups. Today the preserve protects the natural, scenic, and hydrologic resources of the area, while providing recreational opportunities not normally found in a unit of the national park system.
Similarly, development pressures during the 1950s and 1960s threatened the Biscayne Bay area. Plans for a major industrial seaport on the shoreline, a causeway to the upper keys, and resort communities jeopardized the relative tranquillity of the bay’s barrier islands and the surrounding water. By the early 1960s the debate over the preservation of South Biscayne Bay versus the development of resort communities drew wide public attention. After a long political battle, concern for the scenic and ecological values of the area led to the creation of Biscayne National Monument in 1968. Support for the protection of coastal resources continued, leading to the expansion of the monument and its redesignation as a national park in 1980.
National Park Service conservation of marine resources in south Florida began when Fort Jefferson National Monument was established in 1935 to include the surrounding water, submerged land, and a series of keys. In 1992 it was redesignated Dry Tortugas National Park and its purposes expanded. The park now protects significant nesting areas for seabirds, habitat for endangered and threatened sea turtles, and sensitive portions of the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem.
The creation of these national park system units has underscored both the need for and the public interest in preserving south Florida ecosystem resources. The presence of numerous national wildlife refuges and marine sanctuaries as well as state, local, and private protected areas are also evidence of this support. Yet, even though much of the region has been set aside, the ecosystem remains threatened. Combating nutrient-rich (nitrate-contaminated) water, interrupted hydrology, decreased water supply, exotic plants, and mercury contamination cannot be done successfully at the park level alone. Instead, combined and integrated efforts at the federal, state, county, and local levels are necessary.
Last updated: April 14, 2015