Helping to Restore Subtropical Forests in South Florida
The following is a guest blog from Fernando Bretos, Curator of Ecology and Field Conservation at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science
With its warm sunshine, cool ocean breezes and tropical setting, South Florida is truly paradise, bringing thousands of new tourists and residents here every year. But that beauty has a cost, as encroaching development over the years has threatened our verdant ecosystem.
Due to its location at the confluence of the tropics and continental North America and two large bodies of water: the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, South Florida enjoys a unique climate. Our subtropical climate is confined to the extreme southern tip of Florida and plants and animals found living side by side here are found nowhere else in North America such as alligators, crocodiles, live oaks, and mangroves. And new South Florida transplants always comment about the abundance of lizards here in Florida. Growing up in Miami I thought lizards lived everywhere!
But our unique sliver of Florida is under threat. Three of of Florida’s largest urban areas, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach, are located along a 30 mile coastal stretch wedged between the Atlantic Ocean and Everglades National Park, the largest wetland in North America. Last year, Miami-Dade County received 14 million tourists, surpassing any other previous year. And the same warm weather that gives us lizards and mangroves also brings more residents and tourists. With the population of our urban area surpassing 5.5 million residents, there is too much asphalt and not enough green space, even though our subtropical climate affords a year round growing season and one of the highest rates of rainfall in the country.
Apart form their uniqueness, South Florida’s coastal ecosystems are critical in that they provide a habitat for wildlife both above and below the water line, absorb carbon dioxide, act as a buffer from tropical storms and create canopy cover and green spaces in a fast growing city.
While humans are the cause of habitat fragmentation they can also be the solution. For the third consecutive year, FedEx and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science are working together to restore subtropical forests in South Florida through the FedEx EarthSmart program with National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Museum Volunteers for the Environment (MUVE) program uses eco-art installations, science exhibits and social media to engage local residents in restoring the balance between humans and nature in a fast growing urban area. In May, over 40 FedEx volunteers replanted 400 trees and shrubs representing 20 unique tropical species at a former landfill site at Oleta River State Park, the largest urban park in Florida. This hardwood hammock site has been reclaimed from colonization by invasive trees, such as Australian pine and Burma reed. Since 2011, FedEx volunteers have restored over five acres at Oleta River State Park.
Oleta River State Park is a former landfill site measuring over 1,000 acres in area. So while restoring five acres is only a fraction of the total area of the park, the sites restored by FedEx volunteers were once covered in invasive plants, making those areas useless for the purposes of wildlife or recreation. Thanks to the multitude of FedEx volunteers, a living legacy has been created by which native forests and their unique wild inhabitants can return while improving the quality of the park for all future visitors.
So people can make a difference. And when they work together, they can multiply those outcomes. “Employee volunteerism has always been at the heart of the FedEx culture; it is in our DNA to give back to the communities we serve around the world. I really appreciate that FedEx encourages us to give our time and resources to help our communities. It makes employees feel good to do be able to contribute, and it makes us proud to work for a company that cares,” Salil Chari, Managing Director Marketing, FedEx Latin America & Caribbean says of FedEx’s corporate commitment to service.
As a result, these volunteers are also helping to improve our public lands by making them more wildlife friendly and more appealing to visitors. Many of Oleta River State Park’s visitors come to enjoy South Florida’s remaining wilderness through canoeing, biking, or fishing. When it was inherited by the State of Florida in 1980, Oleta River State Park was covered in Australian pine. Now we are seeing one of Miami’s favorite parks become a healthy place for people and nature.