THE EVERGLADES TRIP: MICHAEL RUSE
The Florida State University Program in the History and Philosophy of Science was started in 2004. Over the years, as it has developed and matured, increasingly the focus has been on what one might broadly describe as science in the public domain, together with a strong sense that HPS has both the potential and obligation to engage with scientists and with the general public on issues of social and moral concern. To this end, faculty and students have spent much time off-campus visiting museums and engaging in debate and collaboration with faculty and students at other institutions, both in North America and in Europe
It was therefore a very natural extension of our mission and vision when the Director, Michael Ruse, decided to build a graduate course around the Florida Everglades, that natural resource of wetlands at the bottom of the State, that offers such opportunities for study and recreation, but that has been under such threat both from the encroachment of human activity and from the introduction of alien species. The aim was to let students in the Program, along with any others who wanted to join us, explore questions in the history and philosophy of ecology, with special reference to the opportunities offered by and challenges posed by the Everglades.
Central to the course was a trip to the Everglades, which was held during the FSU spring break at the beginning of March 2014. Some fifteen students (with friends) and the director made the trip, which included both a guided tour and opportunities for individual study and exploration. What follows is a preliminary report on the trip and our findings and initial thoughts. Everyone was asked to write a five-hundred-word mini-essay and accompany it with a picture. Intentionally, the field was left entirely open and students were encouraged to think laterally as it were, meaning that they were told to give first impressions and reactions, rather than putting their ideas into a formal framework. That can come later.
Above all, we hope that as you read through what we have written, we can convey something of the excitement of our visit and the challenges, daunting and exciting, that face our generation of students, both in the Everglades and elsewhere. No one pretends that history and philosophy of science solves all of the world's problems or automatically makes one into a better person, but we would like to think that an encounter and experience such as this shows that our training and our interests do have a very positive contribution to make both to our own development and to the future of life here on Earth.
NON-NATIVE SPECIES AND THE EVERGLADES: JEANNINE BAILEY
Non-native species, also known as introduced, alien, or exotic species, can be defined as a species living outside its native distributional range, which has arrived there by human activity, either deliberate or accidental. Introductions can be either intentional or unintentional. Intentional introductions have been motivated by individuals or groups who either (1) believe that the newly introduced species will be in some way beneficial to humans in its new location or, (2) as is the case with pythons in the Everglades, species are introduced intentionally but with no regard to the potential impact. Unintentional or accidental introductions are most often a byproduct of human movements, and are thus unbound to human motivations. Subsequent range expansion of introduced species may or may not involve human activity.
Introduced species that have a negative effect on a local ecosystem are also known as invasive species. Invasive species spread widely or quickly and have a negative effect on the environment, the economy, or human health. Not all non-native species are considered invasive. Some have no negative effect and can, in fact, be beneficial such as an alternative to pesticides in agriculture for example. In some instances, the potential for being beneficial or detrimental in the long run remains unknown.
Species that humans intentionally transport to new regions can subsequently become successfully established in two ways. In the first case, organisms are purposely released for establishment in the wild. In the second case, species intentionally transported into a new region may escape from captive or cultivated populations and subsequently establish independent breeding populations. Escaped organisms are included in this category because their initial transport to a new region is human motivated. As the everglades are surrounded on three sides by urban areas and are close to a major transportation and shipping center between the United States, Caribbean, and Central and South America, they are particularly vulnerable to the importation of exotic species. For example, they might be used for agricultural experiments, arrive in shipping containers, or be attached to vehicles.
The Astronotus ocellatus, or Oscar fish, seen in the photograph above, is an invasive species known to the Everglades National Forest, which is native to South America. They were introduced to this region in the 1950s by being released from aquariums and escaping aquaculture.
Though the Oscar was initially seen as an undesirable exotic fish, in the late 1980s, that image began to change due to the fact that it is an edible fish that is easy to catch. Now the fish is seen as a great contribution to the everglades fishery. Although this fish is sought after by anglers, the introduction of these fish into other bodies of water is still discouraged and illegal.
Due to the potential benefits some invasive species have on local industry, some might argue that we should not make efforts to control these species and protect the environment from the potential harms they may cause. For instance, because the Oscar is becoming poplar to local fisheries, many people do think efforts should be made to eradicate them from the everglades. However, the Oscar is one of the few exotic fish species to have obtained a foothold in Everglades National Park. Though the extent of their potential for harm is not yet known, there is evidence that they are upsetting the ecological balance of the park.
Once we define non-native species as those introduced by humans, it becomes clear that if we want to preserve ecosystems such as the everglades for future generations, we ought to make efforts to eradicate invasive species. Humans are responsible for the damage caused by invasive species and it is our obligation to try and repair it. Regardless of whether or not the introduction of invasive species and the prevention of their eradication may be beneficial to local economies, we should not support this effort. We owe it to future generations to do what we can to preserve the Earth's delicate ecosystems.
DOWN-STREAM THOUGHT: MARTIN BREMER
Spending time in the Everglades and Key Largo made me reflect on the cognitive dissonance between logical and functional thought. Specifically that people may logically and/or factually know about nature, ecology however this nascent understanding seems to have no transference to functional application. Decision-making is often predicated on immediacy. In this view, considerations of down- stream effects are typically downplayed if not totally omitted. Slavoj Zizek uses internal plumbing and garbage pick-up as surrogate to address this phenomenon - though we logically know that our waste is going to a treatment facility we functionally operate under more of an 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality. There is, in other words, an accepted notion that our waste is simply "gone."
As a science educator, this is of great concern to me; particularly relating to environmental, ecological understanding. Having been trained as a physicist and teaching physics I am less concerned with a person's inability to think of the world in terms of kinematic equations, wave theory or quantummechanics - despite their importance. We may be bound by these physical theories but in terms of ecology we are agents within the system.
Experiencing the Everglades potentially helps people recognize the importance of the ecological zone (i.e. water filtration, spawning ground for many Gulf species of fish, habitat for transient pollinators etc.). Experiences with, in the Everglades allow people to interact with nature outside of idealized and/or caricaturized representation. One can easily experience being mere feet from intimidating animals such as large crocodiles, alligators, highly venomous snakes (e.g. water moccasin) as well as see delicate beauty like bromeliads in bloom. Upon entering the Everglades, most exit their comfort zone; in doing so, it is easy to have our focus narrow, again, toward the immediate needs we have. Walking through the Cypress Dome 'swamp' one has unsure footings resulting in a reliance on a walking stick and attempting to see through the 'muck' in search of stable footing. Diverting your attention a mere foot to the right or left enables one to appreciate the crystal clear water - filtered by the cypress trees and other flora - instead of seeing only that which is obscured with sediment.
Education needs to be reflective of this bias toward logical/down-stream decision making. John Dewey's works place education as central in his conception of The Great Society - achievable through education and democratic interactions. Specifically, Dewey's view of a democratic society is one which allows people to make decisions based on the effect on all parties involved. The imperative becomes the inclusion of ecological zones, species and other biotic, abiotic factors. Rachel Carson makes the idea of down-stream ecological issues abundantly clear, readily accessible and helps remove any doubt regarding our intimate relationship with nature. The Everglades, as well as other national and state parks, are an integral tool in helping people recognize these factors - which should be included in decisions - however, the educational necessity is to help incorporate these into common practice. Through education we can help minimize the cognitive dissonance associated with environmental decision making - whether reducing consumption/generation of waste, reducing consumption of natural resources or how we manage the resources available to us.
WITNESSING THE EVERGLADES: RYAN CARLIN
The Everglades are a natural American landmark. Sadly they are under increased risk of environmental degradation. Fortunately, environmentally conscientious people care deeply about the future of the Florida Everglades. Yet, how do we inspire commitment to protect the environment? From my recent experience, I can attest that being able to have firsthand experience with nature is one of the most effective ways to both inspire and reinforce environmental conscientiousness.
One of the most interesting things to do while in the Everglades is to go wet walking in a cypress dome. The Everglade's cypress domes are swamps where the trees in the middle grow larger than the trees on the outside, yielding a dome shape. It is a fascinating experience to drive several miles down a manmade road, and then venture out, on foot, into a naturally occurring environment that is nearly untouched by man. Life is so abundant in these domes that you are literally surrounded by nature. Once you walk a mere 40 feet, you can look back and see nothing but cypress trees and other wildlife. Within the cypress domes, I witnessed such a remarkable variety of plants and animals that it felt like being transported to a different world.
It is amazing to see how this one area is not only better suited for certain kinds of trees, but gives alligators, water moccasins, and other kinds of animals an ideal environment. At first, it can seem quite frightening being so close to a dangerous animal. However, the fear quickly subsides when you realize that you are with a knowledgeable guide who has been in this environment many times before. The inherent, but unwarranted fear you initially experience makes you realize how little you actually understand nature. Touring the Everglades is certainly a valuable lesson in biology, but in a larger sense provides an inspiring connection with nature. There is something profoundly different about seeing an alligator in its natural habitat as opposed to seeing one within a zoo. Many people worry about the economic impact that environmental degradation will have on the world. Not nearly enough worry about losing the transformative experiences one can have with nature.
One has to wonder how much of an effect these kinds of experiences could have on the public at large. Perhaps, if we could provide everyone the same or a similar experience, then they too, would develop a greater respect for nature and begin to appreciate the inherent value, history and beauty that the Everglades have to offer.
NATURALLY AND ARTIFICIALLY INVASIVE SPECIES: JEFF HAINES
Consider two cases: A) The belted kingfisher is a popular pet in Canada. Many Canadians migrating to south Florida bring their beloved birds with them. Inevitably some escape or are released by their owners. Lacking natural predators, they out-compete native species overpopulate the ecosystem. N) Due to natural changes in the climate of their habitat, the belted kingfishers migrate away from their native Ontario to south Florida. Lacking natural predators, they out-compete native species overpopulate the ecosystem.
Are there relevant differences between these two cases? I will argue that there are not, and this poses a theoretical problem for those concerned with A-type cases, what I call artificially invasive species. These are cases where an invasive species's presence is due to human actions. Specifically, the case for controlling invasive species may not be able to be distinguished from the case for preserving ecosystems from all change.
Invasive species are problems for a number of reasons. They compete with native species for resources, often face few natural predators, and otherwise are thought to harm the ecosystem and the species living in it. There is not much difference between naturally invasive and artificially invasive species. True, the introduction of species by humans usually occurs over a shorter time period and is more likely to involve very different ecosystems (and so have no natural predators in their new one). But these are contingent matters. In the cases above, case A may occur over a time span the same as or longer than N. If we are concerned about case A, it seems we ought to be equally concerned about case N.
In A, the harm is due to the behavior of moral agents who ought not to have behaved irresponsibly. In N, there is no moral agent who has caused the harm. But while this difference matters if we are concerned with blame or punishment, the harmful effects are the same. If we are concerned with mitigating harm to ecosystems, as I assume those concerned with A-type cases are, we ought to be
concerned about N-type cases as well, since they result in equal harms. We might think that this is not much of a bullet to bite, and we should also work to remove naturally
invasive species. There is a further step on the slippery slope, however. Ecosystems are dynamic, and characterized by changes. Stopping all changes in an ecosystem and preserving it as it is is an utter failure of conservation, not its success. If we are concerned about N-type cases, can we distinguish them from other fluctuations and changes that are not problematic? This is difficult to do, since ecosystems are composed of species that either migrated or evolved to fill a niche. Many native species were once invaders.
Our concern with species introduced artificially ought, I have argued, to lead us to concern with species that migrate or otherwise are naturally introduced. It is unclear, however, that N-type cases can be distinguished from the normal changes which ecosystems undergo. If we cannot resist either of these two steps, the case for taking action against invasive species in A-type cases is vulnerable to a slippery slope argument.
IGNORANCE, FEAR, THE UNKNOWN: BÀRBARA JIMÉNEZ
The fact of knowing little about the Everglades combined with the demotivating idea of not knowing anything about philosophy after 6 years of hard work, makes writing this essay a difficult task, for it threatens to expose my ignorance in both fields. Writing about this subject has emerged as unexpectedly as the journey to the Everglades and, consequently, my words will sound somewhat shaky. It is the kind of trembling that usually arises when we write or talk about subjects that we don't know; "fear of the unknown" is usually said when we face an abyss impossible to surmount. Let's see how I face the unknown from an absolute Socratic point of view:
Martin Heidegger, in his fundamental work Sein und Zeit, establishes a difference between two feelings of man that are often confused as equals and that, in accordance with the distinction that this philosopher makes, they are far from being the same. We must discuss the difference that should be established between the fear and angst. The objective of Heidegger, as Existentialist, differentiates these two feelings by clearly defining what is meant by angst. According to Heidegger, the fear has the characteristic of being objective: we are afraid of an alligator's teeth when he comes towards us. On the other hand, anxiety is fear of an indefinite thing: we feel anguish for our existence when it comes to thinking about death because it is something that has not hitherto been sufficiently defined. As a result, when both sides converge, the human being reaches a state of absolute passivity that enables him reacting properly: when we are in an unknown place like the Everglades, with endless paths of wetlands and innumerable threats around us, the whole situation makes us feel as beings lacking the potential to find solutions.
The reference to Epicurus is a must when looking for solutions of this kind. His well-known Tetrapharmakos is explicitly presented as medicine to fight the four major fears that grip the human soul: the fear of the gods, the fear of death, the fear of pain, and the fear of failure. Inaugurating a tradition of libertarian philosophy, radical humanist and materialistic, Epicurus proposes a philosophy which consists of enjoying the pleasures of life, learning how to distinguish between suitable and not suitable pleasures, and sharing both life and knowledge.
Maybe my strange dialectic will not show how to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate pleasures, but it has been useful personally to know that really it is worth, from time to time, to be exposed to new challenges in order to share them later. The fear of the unknown does not always have to be something negative, if at the end of the road you finally get to overcome the abyss. Paradoxically, the unknown finally has served as a therapy which regulates our own limitations and that it teaches us how to extract knowledge from ourselves. To share it or not with others, is a different task, for a different essay.
WHAT'S UNNATURAL ABOUT THE EVERGLADES?: HANNAH KOSLOWSKY
Left: A route map of the Mangrove Swamp at Nine Mile Pond. Note the manmade ponds.
On average, humans change nature much faster than nature changes itself (a counterexample that comes to mind is a hurricane. However, one could argue this phenomenon is incorporated into the cycles of the everglades ecosystems). Conversely, nature can only change human made things so much; remnants of manmade structures remain. Where do you draw the line between what's bad and what's okay in human-nature interactions? The Everglades National Park, covering a vast 1.5 million acres, is a perfect case study. While visiting the Everglades, we focused our attention to a small portion of the park, but thanks to a full day tour we were able to see nine unique ecosystems that make up the Everglades and examine the human-nature dynamic.
One of our activities was kayaking through a Mangrove Swamp at Nine Mile Pond. The access point is at a manmade pond (Figure 1). Historically, roads through the Everglades were made by digging canals and using the excavated soil to mounding the earth beside it for the road. This, however, blocked drainage and flow of the water. In the case of Nine Mile Pond, these manmade ponds were dug to acquire soil for the road as a substitute to building a canal.
Water flow to the Everglades is an issue with deep historical roots. Historically, the Everglades began at Lake Okeechobee. The Everglades is actually a river, slowly winding down to Florida Bay, moving, at most, a quarter mile each day. Drainage via canal was attempted by Hamilton Disston in the early 1880s but, ultimately, it was unsuccessful. The Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee was authorized in 1930, and changed the course of water and northern limits of the Everglades became farmland. Now the National Parks and Water Conservation Area protect the remainder (Figure 2). Recently, billions of dollars have been systematically spent to revert the drainage problem by raising portions of the highway, returning water flow back to its natural course.
One premise of restoration ecology is that human impact and barriers are bad, and in the case of extensive barriers to water flow, we may all be in agreement that it is bad. However, there are less clear cut circumstances and situations. 1. Does this ethical claim always stand? 2. Is restoration a matter of minimizing human impact and barriers (preventatively or restoratively)? I outline two examples for consideration.
On the portion of road where we stopped for the wet walk in the Cypress Domes, culverts connected the water on either side. The road has drastically changed the course of water. Unintentionally however, culverts have given alligators a hideaway and a safe way to cross the road (how significant this benefit is, is unknown). One may argue that without the road, there would be no minor trouble of alligator road kill. But a National Park must balance human access and environmental concerns; removing the road makes the Park inaccessible.
Nine Mile Pond developed into a pond ecosystem attached to the Mangrove Swamp; alligators swim throughout. Besides an uncommonly quick drop-off, one cannot visually tell it was manmade. Alligators are considered ecosystem engineers (beavers are the archetypal example of this characterization). Alligators wallow in the mud, creating holes that can become extensive and eventually host various species and can be part of ecosystems such as Cypress Domes. Although the likelihood of alligator holes forming exactly where Nine Mile Pond was created is low, they provide comparable change to habitat, and are a common aspect in the surrounding ecosystem.
While humans have changed parts of the Everglades to something no longer recognizable as the everglades (e.g. farmland), humans have also changed the everglades by degree. Whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen.
WHAT PHILOSOPHERS CAN (AND CAN'T) DO TO PROMOTE ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCACY WITH RESPECT TO THE FLORIDA EVERGLADES: CARMEN MARIA MARCOUS
I asked myself the question, "How can philosophy be used to promote environmental advocacy on behalf of the Florida Everglades?" which I understood as a question about the scope and import of environmental ethics on practical matters of environmental advocacy. Of course, I think philosophers can do a lot. They can provide guidance and precision in the construction of the concepts and arguments that support one or another view about any number of relevantly related environmental issues. Philosophers can also produce and critique accounts about how best to understand the value of the varied, complex ecosystems of the Florida Everglades and humans' relationship to them (e.g., intrinsic versus extrinsic accounts of value). Finally, philosophers can weigh in on the pragmatic upshot of framing certain advocacy efforts in one way rather than another (e.g., some philosophers claim it can lead to poor political policy when well-intentioned environmental advocates motivate their arguments by appeal to the intrinsic value of nature).
But can philosophers produce arguments that will motivate people to take action? Here I (as an environmental advocate) came into philosophy with the naive hope that one could produce an argument so carefully reasoned, so uncontroversially sound, that people would be compelled to promote environmental stewardship and sustainability. However, the fact of the matter is, the most thoughtfully reasoned philosophical arguments very often fail to compel anyone to action, even the philosophers who advanced them. Take, for example, the fact that there are philosophers who agree with arguments in favor of adopting veganism as a highly effective strategy to promote environmental sustainability, but who are not thereby compelled to adopt this dietary regimen. It is also common to run into philosophers who claim to believe, for philosophically-motivated moral reasons, they "ought" to be vegetarians in order to alleviate unnecessary animal suffering, but who subsequently add that they just "can't" because they "love meat too much!"
My point, of course, is not that philosophy is totally useless to the cause of environmental advocates (as I have indicated otherwise) or that philosophers are just a bunch of hypocrites. It is that carefully reasoned philosophical arguments are (at their best) no more compelling than showing people pictures of the hole in the ozone layer, statistics about the impact of global climate change on the suffering of women and children in poor nations, news reports on current and past episodes of human genocide, or clips of animals being subjected to torture inside factory farms- and that philosophers are no more objective, and no more ethical, than anyone else.
CONTINUAL CHANGE: EMILY MATYKIEWICZ
The natural ecosystems of the everglades, of which nine distinct systems have been identified, support life that is accustomed to surviving on low nutrient availability. To humans, it may be an uninhabitable swamp but its unique vastness supports awe-inspiring plant and animal life, as well as provides many ecosystem services for human life. Similar to the nutrient-poor terrain that best supports viticulture, the low nutrient loads within the everglades habitats, exacerbated by the occasional intrusion of salt water from the ocean, allow only for the hardiest plants and animals to survive and flourish. One thing that the everglades ecosystems rely heavily on, however, is the seasonal fluctuations in water availability. Since drainage attempts and flood control have been attempted in hopes of economic prosperity, water control issues have forced disturbances in the natural water flow that the Everglades relies on. From observations based on our March visit, the best and most natural anthropogenic manipulation of the water cycles in the everglades has yet to be found.
Humans are not the only agents of change within the everglades, other animals also exert power on their environment, although at much smaller scales. For example, alligator holes provide areas of deeper water that provide safe haven for fish and wading birds during the dry season. We visited the Everglades during the end of the dry season, although the river of grass was uncharacteristically wet. As a result of excess rains and returning water from the Okeechobee slough, a possible result of the 2001 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan legislation(CERP), the water in the swamp was higher than it had been observed at this time (early March) for 35 years.
While this many appear to be a positive, there are negative repercussions for excesses within carefully orchestrated networks. Wading birds, including the endangered wood stork, the egret, the blue heron, and the night heron, fish for food by wading in shallow water and capturing fish and invertebrates with their long beaks. This method of self-sustenance is best practiced in shallow water, where food items are concentrated. The depth of the water in the swamp we observed made it difficult for the wading birds to efficiently feed themselves, driving them away to other areas that become crowded or unsuitable. In addition, run-off from swamp-turned-farmland contains residual fertilizers, adding nutrients to the areas that exist and flourish on low nutrient loads. At Nine Mile Pond, a popular kayaking spot, we observed the mangroves ecosystem up-close. In among the red mangroves were cattails, an invasive species that signaled excess phosphates and nitrates, found in residual fertilizers.
Interestingly, the kayak put-in spot, adjacent to the park highway and a parking lot for easy access, consisted of three barrows. A barrow is a pond-like structure, deeper than the rest of the swamp, as a result of having been previously excavated for limestone. The limestone was to become building material to elevate the area where the National Park Service highway within the Everglades was. Nine Mile Pond consisted of three connected barrows linked to mangrove waterways, where it was significantly more shallow but still too high for wading birds to fish in. In fact, we saw no wading birds in the area. The everglades as a macro-ecosystem is unique in its orchestrated networks of life which subsist within a system that not only undergoes seasonal changes, but is also affected by phenomenal events- hurricanes. The fluctuations within the system have resisted human interference in the past, but continue to lose ground, as the invisible human influence leaches through the river of grass.
LEAVE IT AS YOU FOUND IT: ANDREW MOFFATT
There is a concern in ethics about our obligations to the future. While most agree that it seems imminently clear that we have one, what is less clear is what the nature of the obligation is, to whom do we owe it and why do we owe it. Metaphysical, epistemic and ethical worries abound as solutions to these questions are offered, but I will try to propose a token solution.
Every Boy Scout learns to leave his campsite in at least as good of a shape as he found it due to an obligation he has to those who will use it in the future and recognizes that he has no right to abuse this public resource. I believe that we can extend this principle to the world at large. When we enter this world, we find it as it exists, and it exists how the prior generations have left it to us, intentionally or not. We come upon it as a camper comes upon his campsite, and we are obligated to treat the world with respect in the same way that he is obligated to treat his campsite with respect. The prior tenants of the site took care to not desecrate it so that he might use it, and the past generations have likewise taken care to leave us the world as we find it so that we might use of it. It is in virtue of this that we come upon our obligation to preserve the world for posterity's sake. Our obligation is to maintain the state of the world, and if possible to improve it (a supererogatory action). This does not mean that we cannot change the world; just that if we do, it is our responsibility to make sure that we do not knowingly change it for the worse. This responsibility is directed towards the future, though not at any specific time or group of people, and it finds its moral force in a debt we owe to the very real past that can only be repaid in this way.
The nature of the obligation is to maintain the well-being of the Earth, it is owed to the indistinct future, and it is owed to them in light of a debt we owe the past. We are no more responsible for the state of the world when we find it than we are for the family we are born into, but as with the family, this does not mean that we have no obligation toward it. It does not matter who exists in the future, all that matters is that there will be a future. It is an inescapable fact that we have no right to further degrade the state of the Earth. From the perspective of humanity writ large, each generation is but a steward, and each has a duty to be good stewards of their charge.
ETHICAL ISSUES REGARDING INVASIVE AND ENDANGERED SPECIES: JORGE OSEGUERRA GAMBA
The Everglades National Park offers an interesting example of the complex relationship between invasive species, endangered (or threatened) species and our ethical responsibilities towards them. This is the case of the Burmese python and its relationship to some endangered species.
The Burmese python (Python bivittatus) is one of the largest snake species in the world, reaching up to 19 feet long. These enormous serpents are originally from Southeast Asia, where they are considered threatened and vulnerable; but in the Everglades, they hold a different status.
It is believed that a population of these pythons established in the park as a result of accidental or intentional releases by pet owners. Their introduction can have negative effects in the biodiversity of the Everglades by decreasing the population of the native species. Not only do they outcompete the native species for resources, but they also prey on them. Of particular concern is their predation of protected species, like the American Wood Stork, the Key Largo wood rat, and even of another big predator: the American alligator.
In order to counterbalance the potential negative effect in the park's biodiversity actions have been taken towards controlling the population of Burmese pythons. The United States National Park Service (USNPS) has been using different methods to locate them. When captured, they are euthanized; and when python nests are found, they are all destroyed.
The case of Burmese Pythons and its effect on endangered species raises a series of ethical questions. One of them is about our historical responsibility: Are we responsible for introducing them and therefore for the damage caused to the ecosystem? Even if their introduction was not intentional, we still have the power to prevent devastating consequences for the biodiversity, should we then take action? If so, is it because species have intrinsic value independent of human preferences or is it because the potential source of knowledge useful to humanity that every species represent -as some people like E. O. Wilson has argued? If this is the reason why we should value biodiversity, then the Burmese pythons in the Everglades might be a different source of knowledge -as opposed to their Southeast Asian relatives- because even thought they are a different species, they inhabit a different area and therefore interact with a different environment. Should we then try to exterminate these invasive reptiles from South Florida or just control them for the sake of biodiversity?
COURAGE AND SACRIFICE IN THE MANGROVES: MIRJA PÉREZ
The Everglades host three different species of mangrove trees: red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle), black mangroves (Avicennia germinans) and white mangroves (Laguncularia racemosa). These salt-tolerant trees thrive in the areas where saltwater mixes with freshwater from the Everglades. Red mangroves, which grow on the outside edge of the swamp (closest to open water), tolerate the high salinity in the water thanks to their impermeable roots, which leave out a great proportion of the water's salt, and thanks to the "sacrificial leaf" in each branch, which absorbs part of the salt, dying as a consequence. Black mangroves often grow behind red mangroves, and they get the name from their black trunk. Red and black mangroves don't have seeds which have a dormant stage and need cold to germinate. Instead, their seeds (called propagules) start to germinate and grow while they are still on the tree twig.
All three mangrove species are essential to coastline protection during severe storms. In addition, red mangroves, thanks to their far-reaching roots which trap sediments, not only stabilize the coastlines but also add land, as more sand and decaying vegetation is trapped in their root systems.
During the dry months, the Everglades mangrove habitat serves as a valuable nursery for several species which congregate in the mangroves to feed and nest: shrimp, bonefish, egrets, birds of prey such as ospreys, hawks and vultures, and several species of coastal and wading birds, such as white ibis, green-backed herons, brown pelicans, roseate spoonbills, ospreys and snowy egrets among others. Mangroves also serve as shelter for American coots, American crocodiles, bald eagles, Peregrine falcons and Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. Above the water's surface, one can find tree snails, crabs, spiders and bromeliads, and below the water's surface (often encrusted on mangrove roots), sponges, anemones, corals, oysters, mussels, starfish and crabs. The mangrove habitat supports pink shrimp and stone crabs, which are exploited by multi-million-dollar industries.
Brackish water is needed to keep the mangrove ecosystem healthy. Rains and canal-building have been extremely disruptive to the mangrove habitats, by releasing too much or too little fresh water into the tidal estuaries. In 2000, the State of Florida and the U.S. government passed a plan to restore (as far as possible) the ecosystem to its state before intensive draining.
THE ANTHROPOCENTRISM OF INVASIVE SPECIES MANAGEMENT: GEORGIA RAE RAINER
The Everglades National Park is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, but many have been introduced to the area with the help of humans. There are at least 380 documented species listed as invasive that can be found in the Everglades currently. The National Invasive Species Council (NISC) defines invasive species as "a non-native species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm, or harm to human, animal, or plant health." This definition is used to inform policies on how to manage invasive species and when/how to take action. Only when a non-native species causes 'more harm than good' is it considered invasive. However, the notion of harm here relies largely and explicitly on anthropocentric interests. In our efforts to seemingly preserve the native members of particular parts of nature in the Everglades and other areas, we define 'invasive' in such a way as to put human interests (often economic interests) on par, if not above, the interests of the native organisms. NISC explains, "[e]ssentially, we are clarifying what is meant and not meant by 'causing harm' by comparing negative effects caused by a non-native organism to its potential societal benefits." What is interesting here is the insistence on weighing the benefits to society as a whole against the organisms' negative effects. This creates imbalanced situations that appear to undermine the project of preserving the native members in the first place.
One example of this imbalanced situation is the cultivation of European honeybees in America. The bees are used for honey and pollination services and while they have formed wild populations and reportedly caused problems to the native organisms in certain areas of the country, they are not considered invasive because they are far more profitable than problematic. NISC allows such a broad conception of societal harm that even a reduction in the aesthetics of an ecosystem is enough to consider a species 'invasive.'
The concerns of the native plants and animals in an ecosystem are not ignored by the policy makers, but the NISC reserves action to clear-cut cases where the harm severely outweighs the good. This pragmatic approach has two unfortunate consequences. First, there is little room to take preventative measures before the invasive species has done serious harm to an ecosystem. Second, the most obvious notions of 'harm' come in the form of economic detriment to humans. This consequence is perhaps the most egregious and is seemingly removed from the conservation efforts of a native region.
In the way that we cash out these concepts concerning conservation i.e., 'invasive' vs. merely 'non-native' it appears as though the goal is not to preserve the native members of an ecosystem. If a species is brought into a region and is not particularly 'harmful', it is merely categorized as 'non-native' and left alone. However, the 'harmful' species requires removal to preserve the native members of the ecosystem. Given the anthropocentrism of assessing 'harm,' the native state of an ecosystem appears to play little role in the arbitration of which members are allowed in an ecosystem and which are not. The justification of the policy makers implicitly concerns the instrumental value of the non-native (or invasive) species under the ruse of preserving some apparent intrinsic value of the native state of an ecosystem.
THE HUMAN INFLUENCE ON BIRD POPULATIONS OF THE EVERGLADES: ZACHARY RYMNIAK
Many species in the Florida everglades have been negatively impacted by man's intrusion on this ecosystem. For the birds of the everglades, man was a predator, but not solely for food. Instead, more often these were hunted birds for fashion. Retail markets in the Northeast demanded beautiful bird feathers for their stores and men were capable of making fortunes off of the trade. This practice was legal for many years, but continued to go on after its abolition in 1902. Guy Bradley was an early game warden in the everglades that gave his life arresting a poacher year (McIver, 2003). His legacy was used by the National Ornithological Society to educate future generations about birds he protected.
Since man first made his way into this rugged ecosystem the birds have felt man's presence. Many birds were killed in the name of fashion in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The plume trade made men rich beyond their wildest dreams. Bird poachers could make thirty to forty cents a bird. This was incredible money when a single town could turn over close to 70,000 birds in a week, and the original game wardens only made $420 a year (McIver, 2003). Birds were hunted down during the most crucial time in their reproductive cycles. When the chicks were just hatched, hunters could enter a rookery, or bird nesting area, and kill birds one at a time as the others would stay to protect their young. The young would be left to fend for themselves and would often die. This was also the most lucrative time to poach the birds because their feathers would have just developed, and these were more valuable to fashion retailers.
Education was the most effective measure taken to end the plume trade. The local population was informed of the outlawing of the practice as well as the detriment caused to the everglades by hunting the birds. This caused a decrease in the hunting that had so devastated the bird populations over the years(McIver, 2003). Many bird species were eradicated in the area and many more were left with decimated populations. Today people should be responsible for this ecosystem and the continuation of its varied species by educating people on the ways man continue to affect the environment.
Today the birds of the everglades do not experience the same threats man posed as plume hunters, but still people are putting the species at risk with our activities in and around this vital ecosystem. Human activities such as farming and water management have unintended consequences such as causing polluted runoff from pesticides and fertilizers or causing flooding or droughts in crucial habitats. In these ways man continues to negatively affect the birds of the Florida everglades.
Still, the Florida Everglades are home to many beautiful bird species. If people wish to have these beautiful birds, and this beautiful ecosystem around for future generations man needs to continue to investigate the ways he interacts with this system, and to continue educating and informing people on how they can take more responsible actions in and around the everglades. Learning from the past is the only way to prevent making the same mistakes in the future.
UNWELCOME FISH SPECIES IN EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK: SIMON WHITEHOUSE
One of the main themes that run through Marjorie Stoneman Douglas's landmark book Everglades: River of Grass (1947) is the notion that the Everglades have for centuries remained unchanged until humans began pouring into the state in the early twentieth century. Upon touring areas of the unique Southern Floridian ecosystem, we can see that Douglas's calls for protection against human incursions are valid when considering human involvement in the invasion of many nonindigenous species. Naturalist E.O. Wilson has even pointed out that such incursions have changed the overall biodiversity in Florida (and by extension the state's overall heritage) in large part because it has contributed to habitat destruction. Invasion of exotic species is the biggest result of this, he argues.
While the full impact of non-invasive fish into the Everglades National Park are not fully known, biologists in recent decades have suggested that human water management and control efforts of the ecosystem have led to increased non-native species. Four species of fish that are made known to the public as "exotic" are the oscar (Astronotus ocellatus), the pike killfish (belonesox belizanus), the blue tilapia (oreochromis aureus), and the maya cichlid (cichlasoma urophthalmus). Since at least the end of World War II, these species have been added to the ecosystem under differing circumstances and hence compete for food and space with other more native fish like the Florida Gar, Warmouth (Bream), bluegill, mosquitofish, and largemouth bass.
In the case of the oscar, like other South American freshwater fish, it has exploded in numbers since being introduced to the human-constructed ecosystem of the late fifties. With interconnected canals throughout South Florida, slow moving waters have allowed this species to gain a strong presence in the park area. According to Robert H. Robins, the species' full impact on the natural ecosystem is "unknown" even though they eat smaller fish as well as crustaceons, gastropods, and aquatic insects, but they are highly desirable by humans, particularly as aquarium pets.
Similarly, the Mayan cichlid, first reported in 1983 in the Everglades area, has spawned in great numbers in past decades, but have done so due to their adaptability to a variety of marine environments (salinity and water levels, especially). The fish is desirable to anglers, but due to their aggressive and tendency to compete with other fish in mangrove environment have often been found a nuisance for sports fishermen.
The pike killfish of the eastern coast of Central America, unlike the first two species, thrive close to the surface of slow-flowing rivers and ponds, especially in areas with lush vegetation. Out of the four, the fish is unique in that it had been part of a medical research project in the fifties, before being purposely released into a canal in 1957 when research funding ended. The fish will eat native mosquitofish. mosquito larvae, mollies, and even their own species.
The blue tilapia, which originates from North Africa and the Middle East is seen as "the most widespread foreign species" in Florida and very present in south and central "lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and canals."
As a massive federal restoration project in the Florida Everglades continues into the 21st Century, biologists estimate invasive fish species will continue to take a presence in the unique ecosystem. Indeed, between 2000 and 2012, eight new species were introduced, while three fish native to the area took a presence.