Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


On the fringe

South Florida’s urban development has grown tremendously in the last decade. With more than 750 people moving into the state each day, Florida’s environment may be at risk. On Friday the Broward Performing Arts Center held the fourth annual Environmental Ethics Conference, which was sponsored by Florida Atlantic University, University of Miami’s Ethics Programs and the Florida Bio Ethics Network. Many students, faculty and residents attended the event to expand their knowledge of the Everglades and coastal beaches.

With a growing population we are faced with questions concerning the balance between structural development and natural preservation. The conference began with discussions about the economy and some of the original species found in Florida. The government has estimated that 16 million people currently live in Florida and 66 thousand new home units will be built in the next three years. In addition to the 16 million inhabitants, Florida accommodates 25 million tourists annually.

Jim Duquesnel, John Pennekamp Park’s resident Biologist, spoke with passion about South Florida and his heartache for those who don’t appreciate their surroundings, “People that move here, thousands, think it’s beautiful, but the problem is they don’t see what has been lost.” The damage to Florida’s eco system has been substantial due to the relatively new urban sprawl. In the 1940s there was a rush to Florida, which created a development problem. Houses and buildings couldn’t be built on swamps. In order to create a viable building surface the government drained large portions of the Everglades. Thousands of homes and businesses were built on top of the depleted swamplands. Roads and highways became a part of daily life. South Florida’s booming economy began to displace a number of Florida’s native species.

As a result of excessive development Florida has lost many of its native animals, putting them on the endangered species list. The immense decline of Florida’s native species soon came to the publics’ attention. Much like our swamplands and beautiful beaches, many of the species found in South Florida are unique. Environmentalists and government officials have been working together, creating state parks and restoration acts to restore the damage caused to rivers and wetlands. Michael Owens, a Broward County attorney specializing in the environment, said “Money is the key, when there’s a chance for money to be made, it’s hard to make businesses see that nature is more important.” Restriction laws have been put in place to prevent developers from pushing into the everglades. One major question posed at the conference was, how far will man push? It’s not natural for the everglades habitat to sit adjacent to an urban sprawl.

Thousands of gallons of water are pumped out of the Everglades daily in order to keep the land dry. On the way out to tide the water pipes push out native species and grasses. Dr. Rock Salt, a Senior Everglades policy adviser, discussed the “balance that needs to be formed between water supply in the everglades and where we live in natural areas.”

The water pumped out of the everglades is directed to another very sensitive ecosystem, Florida’s beaches. The beaches are beautiful, breath taking, and slowly eroding into nothing. It is hard to find a quiet beach in south Florida without the presence of a large hotel on the beachfront.

Along the coast, from West Palm Beach to Florida’s Keys, there is over $1 trillion of water front real estate. Once again the money is raised as a key issue. Dr. Leatherman has studied Florida and its beaches for over a decade. “We are at war with the ocean,” he explains. Hotels want to be as close to the ocean as possible to give a luxurious stay to their guests. But, Dr. Leatherman has seen what happens to this water pushing idea. The Diplomat Hotel on Hollywood Beach has seen what building too close to the ocean can do. The beach erodes an average of two to three feet per year. The Diplomat after many years of standing no longer has a beach for its guests.

Building setbacks aren’t always enforced, but Dr. Leatherman and Oceanographer Bernhard Riegl have exerted an inordinate amount of effort to ensure that they are. Again, the conference has stressed that if money is being made, the problem is even harder to stop. Buying sand for the beaches of south Florida has become an almost mandatory project. Dr. Leatherman stresses the importance of understanding what this means, sand delivered from the Bahamas costs $24 per cubic yard. Taxpayers publicly fund this sand. By enforcing building setback, taxpayers will not only save money, but the beach as well.

The only way to help Florida’s environment is to get involved and share information with others. Dr. Jaap Vos, Chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at FAU, holds many community service projects for the environment and has published numerous books on urban development. Robin Fiore, an FAU professor on Environmental Ethics, has gotten involved and encourages her students to do the same, to save Florida’s natural beauty.

If you would like to help out contact Dr. Vos at (954) 762-5653.

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