Development threatens future of parks

Runoff water, humans and wild animals coexisting in the same territory, invasive animal species and invasive plants, coral reefs dying— all these are affecting our national parks.

And they are some of the issues that Everglades and Biscayne National Park face when commercial development gets too close.

“Anytime you have development you reduce the habitat for animals. Some animals are able to adjust even coincide, but for the most part animals suffer from this. Animals that are primarily affected are those who are in need of wetlands to survive. But, when the size of the wetlands is affected so are the animals that need the wetlands,” said Sonny Bass supervisory wildlife ecologist at Everglades National Park

At right, pork fish swims past a reef in Biscayne National Park (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service). Below,
an alligator walking around a patio (Photo courtesy of Roberto Estrada).


Can wild animals and humans live side by side or are these accidents just waiting to happen?

Among animals in need of wetlands such as the Everglades are Florida alligators and crocodiles. These are very territorial animals. Baby alligators are neglected and even threatened by their fathers; they are protected by their mothers for the first two years and, after that, the mother will scare them off.

These young alligators now have to find new territory to claim as their own. With property development, these animals’ options become very limited, which in turn affects the animals’ population and causes a negative chain reaction throughout the food chain. These animals then move to lakes and canals near people’s homes, which, in some cases have caused pets to be injured or killed and in extreme cases even humans have been attacked.Other issues of property development near the Everglades also affect the park’s water supply whether it’d be because of pollution or simply the use of water.

“Increased development on the east side of the park results in increased urban water use, which results in less water available for environmental purposes. This problem is particularly troublesome during drought periods, like the one we are in right now. Water levels are low enough in the park to adversely impact nesting success of wading birds,” said Nick Aumen aquatic ecologist at Everglades National Park.

Whether the water is used to shower or to drink, the water supply is affected and this has a devastating effect on the ecological system of national parks.

“Property development near the park has affected the habitat and physical environment by altering the natural flow of water into the Everglades ecosystem.

“The complex system of canals and water control structures and the development of the water conservation areas to the north of the park have dramatically decreased the amount of water that flows into the park. The change in water amount and flow timing has affected plant communities, nesting habits and locations of birds and other animals, and the entire natural system as a whole,” said Caryl Alarcon, geographer at Everglades National Park.

Water used for other activities such as watering plants or washing a car can also prove to be devastating to the parks environment. These activities cause runoff water to pollute the natural waters. The water is then in need of refinement in order to avoid pollution.

Unfortunately, this is isn’t the only effect that property development near national parks has had on these environments. Other human activities affect the national parks as well.

Exotic animals are being released into the wild by people this can prove to be devastating to the native Everglades species as well as having a negative affect the food chain and the whole ecosystem.  The ‘invaders” include the Mediterranean fruit fly, common myna, Burmese python, Tokay gecko, and the Cuban tree-frog. These are some of the invasive species which are changing Everglades’ ecosystem.

Invasive species are not limited to animals there are also plants that are invasive.  Plants such as the “Brazilian pepper,” which produces chemicals can suppress other plants. Other invasive plants include lather leaf, Australian pine, seaside mahoe, which affect the Everglades’ natural habitat by killing off or reducing native species.

Commercial development is a problem that many parks have to face and although the consequences vary from park to park these consequences are slowly changing and affecting our national parks.

At right, a small alligator explores a patio and backyard (Photo courtesy of Roberto Estrada). Below, construction near Everglades National Park (Photo by Sergio Guarneros).

Not far from Everglades National Park in South Florida, Biscayne National Park is a national park that has rare species of coral reefs and is rich in regional history, ranging from pirate ship wrecks to pineapple farmers. In Biscayne National Park, people are allowed to go out boating, picnicking, diving, fishing, and snorkeling. But this also poses a danger to the national park.

“The problems that Biscayne National Park faces are a range full of problems some of which include, runoff water, chemicals, littering and people crashing into the coral reefs,” said Sarah Bellmund, ecologist at Biscayne National Park.

Like Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park faces similar problems as it pertains to runoff water that affects the organisms that are in need of a certain level of saline water in order to survive.

But bigger issues that the park faces include people littering into the water. This is one of the biggest concerns for ecologist Bellmund because it’s polluting the park as well as affecting the natural habitat of the coral reefs.

Another big issue that the park faces is boaters who crash into the coral reefs. Many of these accidents occur because the boaters are either inexperienced or drunk.

The national park has also taken a huge impact because of people partying in their boats in the park which is responsible for most of the littering and some of the crashes that occur in the park.

“It’s important for people to get out and see the natural beauty in order to appreciate the tropical park we are able to enjoy,” said Bellmund.

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