Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Florida Everglades

They began to drain the Everglades in 1882 when you were seven and Miami was a town of five thousand, with streets of dust.

Your father’s passionate opposition did no good. Over two thousand kilometres of canals were created. Advertisers sold a dream of a tropical paradise to New Yorkers, stimulating a land boom. More and more people arrived. Sugar cane was planted, and animals hunted in the marshes; in one trip, a hunter killed two hundred and fifty alligators and one hundred and seventy otters. Wading birds were prized for their feathers, with five million killed in 1886 alone.

The disruption of the watershed caused sea water to fill the marshes. Lake Okeechobee lost oxygen, killing most of its wildlife, including ninety percent of its wading birds. And as the land dried out, it subsided by a third of a metre a year, causing problems to housing; it was not the paradise people were promised.

Your book “Everglades: River of Grass” finally made people see Florida’s marshland for what it was; a fragile ecosystem to be protected. You were seventy nine, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and tiny and frail, but you instigated the most expensive environmental repair attempt in history on a stretch of land now home to five million people.