A panorama of Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in the State of Florida.
When I found out that I got the John Marshall Everglades Internship, I was ecstatic, thrilled. An excuse to work on the East Coast? A chance for a small-town-Arizona-boy to drive across the country and work with a foundation dedicated to restoring one of America’s greatest national parks? I didn’t have to give a second thought, I was in.
Currently, I am joined by Cady DeLay, Natalie Faron, and Bella Di Giglio as this year’s team of interns. Aside from Bella, who is a Miami native, all of us traveled from across the continental U.S. to get here. Most of us hadn’t seen Miami let alone been on an airboat before. That changed on our second day.
From left to right: Bella Di Giglio, Cady DeLay, Natalie Faron, and Zion Johnson.
The airboat tour of Water Conversation Area 3 (WCA3) was amazing. The sky was bright, with the reflections in the marsh creating the illusion of an endless blue horizon. We were joined by The Everglades Foundation Board Member David Lawrence, Jr. and plant ecologist Dr. Kristie Wendelberger, who helped me gain a historical and environmental understanding of the area. With this, I got my feet wet (quite literally) in Everglades ecology, learning about tree islands, periphyton, the endangered snail kite, and the disrupted Everglades watershed.
Since then, we have also toured the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee, receiving valuable intel from Florida Atlantic University Riverwoods Support Staff Casey Trent, Mark Compeau and from Audubon Florida’s Okeechobee Science Coordinator Paul Gray. Every moment I have learned something valuable, from the fact that the Kissimmee River restoration is setting a global example for river rehabilitation efforts to the fact that Everglades restoration has a sizable effect on water quality and is projected to mitigate saltwater intrusion of the Biscayne aquifer, the source of drinking water for over 8 million people in South Florida.
This time has also been instrumental in helping my co-interns and me figure out our objectives and focus on our individual projects; Natalie will be creating an updated land ownership map of the Everglades Agricultural Area using ArcGIS, Cady will be integrating an artistic element into K-5 of the Everglades educational curriculum, Bella will be working on The Everglades Foundation’s publication, the Science Insider, while I will be serving as our blog editor, working on a piece for the Glades Guardian, and helping to document our experiences through pictures and videos that will also be used in future Foundation communication pieces.
Between meeting with multiple stakeholders and reading about the history of the Everglades in Michael Grunwald’s The Swamp (Thanks to Nancy Marshall’s thoughtful gift!), I have begun to really understand how complex the argument for and against Everglades restoration is. My co-interns and I hope to continue this exploration in order to effectively research, communicate, and teach about The Everglades Foundation’s mission.