Southwest Florida is a water-lover’s paradise — rivers, lakes, estuaries, the Gulf of Mexico, boating, fishing, scuba diving, seafood.
Wetlands loss and restoration have long been topics in Florida — ongoing efforts to fix the Everglades constitute the biggest wetlands restoration project in history – and Bill Mitsch, Ph.D., eminent scholar and director of FGCU’s Everglades Wetland Research Park, is actively involved in wetlands restoration using a multi-disciplinary approach called ecological engineering. When ecological engineering originated in the early 1960s, the idea of engineers working with ecologists was considered a little off-the-wall.
“Because when do ecologists and engineers ever talk to each other?” Mitsch says. “But it’s a successful field because the engineering world just wasn’t ready for fixing things like the pollution in the Caloosahatchee River or the problems we’re having in the Everglades. Engineers definitely solve problems — that’s what they do — but we needed a field that was solving problems in an ecological fashion, not with the usual technology.”
Poor water quality has virtually wiped out aquatic grasses in the Caloosahatchee, and Win Everham, Ph.D., professor and program leader of environmental studies, is experimenting with ways of restoring grasses in the river. “If we can get grasses established and living long enough to fruit, that will invigorate the seed bank. If we get healthy vegetation in the river, releases from Lake Okeechobee won’t matter.”
Students and faculty in FGCU’s Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences are also involved in restoration work – restoring oyster habitats. Students make oyster habitats from broken hockey sticks, which are then anchored to area boat docks. A single oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day, and as many as 400 oysters can colonize a 9.17-cubic-foot (40-inches-by-20-inches-by-20-inches) habitat, so a single habitat can filter 20,000 gallons of water a day.
Water is bigger than ever in the public eye — from Everglades restoration to red tide to hurricanes to climate change. There are problems, and we need solutions. We can’t turn our backs on these important issues.
— Bob Gregerson, Ph.D.,
Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences