The Everglades Coalition convenes its 35th annual conference today and Saturday with the theme “All Hands on Deck” for America’s Everglades, highlighting the need for widespread support to advance Everglades restoration and address Florida’s ongoing water crisis.

The conference is at the South Seas Island Resort in Captiva Island, a region of Florida that has been plagued by toxic blue-green algae and red tide. The conference program explores recent progress while calling for increased momentum to implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). Over 350 participants, including elected leaders, agency officials, environmental groups, members of the public and community leaders are registered for the conference, which features discussions on the importance of securing consistent and sufficient funding to complete CERP projects and improved water quality for over 8 million Floridians who live in the Greater Everglades watershed.

“We are extremely grateful for the leadership of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Florida Legislature and the U.S. Congress for supporting CERP with significant funding levels in 2020,” said Marisa Carrozzo, co-chair of the Everglades Coalition and environmental policy manager for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “We need to see this type of consistent, high-level funding realized annually to ensure that projects are planned, built and operated for restoration benefits for the Everglades and the estuaries.”

America’s Everglades is recognized as a global treasure and one of the world’s largest ecosystem restoration projects. Over the past century, 50% of Everglades habitat and 70% of the historic “River of Grass” water flow has been lost at great expense to Florida’s ecological, wildlife and public health. Toxic algae blooms, seagrass die-offs and depleted fish populations are just a few of the consequences of this broken water system. With recent harmful algae blooms still fresh on the minds of many Floridians, the Coalition is focused on bringing together stakeholders, experts and decision-makers for collaborative discussion about fast-tracking restoration efforts.

“The Everglades, the estuaries, our tourism-based economy and human health continue to suffer the longer restoration is delayed,” said Mark Perry, co-chair of the Everglades Coalition and executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society. “We must continue to work for strong partnerships to achieve CERP and use this funding momentum to bring relief to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, and restored flow south to the Everglades and Florida Bay.”

The economic impact of Florida’s water crisis is a critical theme of the conference. The convening of presenters from the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Bonita Springs Chamber of Commerce, Realtor groups, fishing guides associations and several business owners highlight the intrinsic link between clean water and a thriving South Florida economy.

The connection between Everglades restoration and climate resiliency is also featured this year.  Everglades restoration offers significant benefits for both mitigation and adaptation to climate change impacts – from restored seagrasses and mangroves that sequester greenhouse gases to protected drinking water supply from saltwater intrusion, but is threatened by expanding oil and gas operations. Climate advocates are joining forces with the Everglades community to ensure “all hands on deck” for resilient climate solutions for South Florida.

The Everglades Coalition’s annual state legislative priorities closely mirror many of the topics covered in the conference, including strong funding levels and water quality restoration. The priorities also call for the protection of Florida’s natural wonders through conserving lands, ensuring oil exploration and drilling do not undermine Everglades restoration efforts, and safeguarding our investments in restoration through comprehensive land use planning and smart growth.

Keynote and panel speakers include Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Congressman Brian Mast, Florida Representative Heather Fitzenhagen, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, Okeechobee County Commissioner David E. Hazellief, former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Ryan Fisher, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander Andrew Kelly, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Chair Chauncey Goss, South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Drew Bartlett and Everglades National Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos.

The Everglades Coalition represents more than 60 regional, state, national and international organizations committed to the restoration of America’s Everglades. The Coalition’s annual conference is the largest forum for Everglades conservation and restoration, bringing together Coalition members with business leaders, stakeholders, local, state, tribal and federal partners, academics, and students to engage in meaningful discussions about restoring America’s Everglades.