In 2007 the United Nations removed the Everglades from their list of endangered World Heritage sites at the behest of the US Department of the Interior. The decision made as much sense as proclaiming that sea water is no longer salty.
Let’s first consider why the Everglades is considered a World Heritage site in the first place. UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has ten criteria. At least one must be met to be considered a unique place of considerable significance. The Everglades meets three.
The flat topography and underlining limestone formations of South Florida have given rise to a subtropical wetland ecosystem like no other place in the world. Here can be found fresh and salt water marshes, hardwood hammocks, pine rocklands, the largest mangrove estuary in the western hemisphere along with sea grass beds that are paramount to the fisheries of the Gulf and Atlantic.
The Everglades provides habitat for well over 350 species of birds as well as an extensive variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects including more than 20 species of threatened or endangered species. Manatee, Florida Panther, Snail Kite, American Crocodile, Mangrove Fox Squirrel and the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow are just a few that reside in the Everglades and are included on the list.
UNESCO listed the Everglades as a World Heritage site in 1979 as well as labeling it a site in “Danger” in 1993. The threats to the ecosystem included urban development, agricultural encroachment and runoff, misguided water management, poaching, etc.
The purpose of the listing of the Everglades and any World Heritage site is to draw attention to an imperiled place of significance. The argument for delisting the Everglades in 2007 was that CERP – the 20 year, 30 billion dollar Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan drafted between 1996 and 1999 and underway starting in 2000 was a significant step towards reparations of the mangled 18,000 square mile Everglades Watershed. UNESCO disagreed but fulfilled the wishes of the U.S. to delist it.
Just as a doctor wouldn’t release a heart patient from the hospital because he has a plan to perform open heart surgery, the Everglades should not have been delisted because there was a plan to fix it. The US Secretary of the Interior has requested the Everglades once again be listed and UNESCO has done so as of August 2010.
Newspaper headlines proclaimed the Everglades is “once again in danger” and I would add that you still shouldn’t drink the sea water.