Can the Everglades Be Restored?
Sunny Zhang is a sophomore at Duke University studying Environmental Science and Public Policy. She enjoys roadtrips, reading about nature, and upcycling.
I grew up in the Everglades, riding airboats, canoeing through mangrove waterways, catching shade from gumbo-limbo trees and going alligator sighting—I’ve always loved the Everglades. It is a beautiful set of interconnected ecosystems in south Florida, composed of vast areas of marshland, cypress tree swamps and mangrove estuaries. The Everglades is a refuge to the critically endangered Florida panther and has plains of sawgrass as far as the eye can see, not to mention it’s the only place in the world where you can find both alligators and crocodiles.
So when I first learned about novel ecosystems, I immediately denied the fact that the Everglades classified as one.
A novel ecosystem is defined as an ecosystem that differs in composition, structure or function from present and past systems as the result of human altercation. These ecosystems are hybrids of original, historic ecosystems and often contain invasive species that dominate the area at the expense of native species.
The idea of novel ecosystems has been controversial in conservation circles. Not everyone agrees that labeling ecosystems as "novel" is productive, and some argue that the term encourages negligence and apathy towards returning the ecosystems to their historic ways. Advocates, however, believe that novel ecosystems are better at providing natural services and stability than historic ecosystems, and are cheaper to maintain. Still other advocates believe that novel ecosystems are simply ecosystems undergoing their inevitable change.
Somehow, to me, labeling the Everglades as a novel ecosystem seemed to strip it of its legitimacy and value. In my mind, labeling the Everglades as a novel ecosystem would mean giving up on it, and letting it be degraded with Burmese pythons, Green Iguanas, Giant African Snails and Melaluca trees, all human-introduced, invasive species.
Ultimately, the Everglades qualifies as a novel ecosystem. About 50 percent of the original Everglades remains. With more than 25 percent of its fauna being non-native species, and housing the highest number of exotic plant species in the world, the Everglades is probably the best example (and worst case) of a novel ecosystem. The 1,392 exotic plant species actually outnumber the 1,301 plant species considered native to South Florida. Human effects on water flow have caused the alligator population within the Everglades to drop drastically. Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that even the waterways have been artificially manipulated. It’s nearly impossible to restore the Everglades as it was before, the "River of Grass" undisturbed by human exploitation, pollution, agricultural development, and suburban expansion. It is strange to know that a considerable amount of what you see out in the Everglades doesn’t actually belong there.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
We spend $500 million every year simply trying to control invasive species. Should we care to maintain the Everglades if it is "novel?"
Economic factors aside, the Everglades has intrinsic values—aesthetic and cultural. We don’t just preserve the Everglades because it improves water quality or prevents flooding. We preserve it because we value the biodiversity it brings us, and the unique regional commonality it provides. The Everglades is integrated into the Florida school curriculums, displayed at photo galleries, and is a vital part in sustaining the local tourism economy. The slow moving pace of the ‘River of Grass’ also shows us that there is more to life than the hustle and bustle you find in Miami and other cities. Being in the Everglades is humbling. It reminds urban and suburban South Floridians that all of the resources and land we use comes from somewhere. It shows us that different ecosystems are interconnected. The Everglades reminds us of nature’s wonders.
Though there are species that do not belong in the Everglades, they should not tarnish the value of the ones that do. Labeling the Everglades as a novel ecosystem should not change our mindsets and sentiments toward protection and restoration.
Many people (including myself) have misconceived the term "novel ecosystem." Admitting the Everglades is a novel ecosystem doesn’t mean that we have given up on preservation efforts. Admitting the Everglades is a dynamic, novel ecosystem should not diminish its intrinsic value. It does not mean we will throw traditional conservation and restoration approaches out the window, forget about historical ecosystem structures, and encourage novel ones in their place.
Even though they might not seem "natural," studying novel ecosystems can tell us more about the progression of nature. Calling the Everglades a novel ecosystem will help develop a better management framework to address the rapid changes occurring within it. It conveys the clearer realities we must face—the alterations we’ve made to the Everglades are almost irreversible.
Sometimes when you love something, it’s easy to pretend its flaws don’t exist. I love the Everglades, and I’m learning how to love the Everglades even though it isn’t pristine.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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