A major Southwest Florida wetland is drying up as people move in

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:

Researchers are studying the dropping water levels over the last two decades at a major Southwest Florida wetland.

Monday, a balmy March day in Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. But, this wet refuge of the swamp is drying up.

Dr. Shawn Clem is the Research Director of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

“We found that our hydroperiod, or the number of days that our wetlands are holding water, has really decreased since about the mid-2000’s,” said Clem.

A danger for plants, creatures and us. “Now that we’re getting overdried in the dry season, it’s putting the swamp at risk of catastrophic fire,” she said.

Corkscrew researchers believe they have found the culprit.

Brad Cornell is a Southwest Florida Policy Associate with Audobon Florida.

“The flood protection systems, the canals that were built to drain Southwest Florida, especially south of the sanctuary,” Cornell said.

They say it goes beyond those systems as well.

“We also found some negative effects in other parts of the system in agricultural withdrawals and water supply withdrawals,” Dr. Clem said.

Part of the solution may come from good, old-fashioned ingenuity.

“Perhaps putting some sort of clay wall underground that can hold back that groundwater in the dry season, so that would go in just south of the sanctuary, so we could hold water north in the sanctuary throughout the dry season,” Clem said.

Those who enjoy Southwest Florida’s environment agree that something needs to be done.

“These are amazing places with amazing wildlife that not only is wonderful to look at but we really literally depend on these places,” Cornell said.

While more research is necessary to determine possible solutions, Audobon Florida says a couple of ideas include preventing homes from being built on floodplains and buying wetlands to protect them.

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