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Enjoy Florida's Wetlands Before They Disappear

Tricia Woolfenden

The recently-wrapped 2013 Florida Legislative session was an active one for those who track environmental issues in the Sunshine State. Writing for the Tampa Bay Times, the Nature Conservancy of Florida's Janet Bowman said of this session: "I find some bright spots and a glimmer of hope that a dark period in Florida's history of environmental resource protection is coming to a close."

One of those "glimmers" comes in the form of House Bill 999, or rather, the items that were removed from the environmental regulation bill before it passed the floor. While the bill still includes numerous aspects that are unappealing to conservationalists -- some environmental groups fear it weakens environmental regulation -- Bowman said language was removed that would have made it "more difficult" to protect wetlands. 

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On the topic of wetlands, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated May as American Wetlands Month in recognition of these important, often-threatened habitats. Given that Florida is home to one-fifth of the country's wetlands, it's an easy "holiday" to observe in South Florida. It's also a reminder to enjoy a rapidly-disappearing natural resource while it's still possible.

The EPA estimates that between 2004 and 2009, about 62,300 acres of the country's wetlands were lost to development, drainage, and other factors. In the last 200 years, Florida has lost more acreage of wetlands cover than any other state, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimating the loss at 9.3 million acres.  

Where to go in South Florida, aside from Everglades National Park, to enjoy the wetlands? Palm Beach County is home to several popular wildlife viewing destinations, including the constructed wetlands at Green Cay Nature Center in Boynton Beach. The wetlands there are a prime viewing space for nesting birds and wading species, while also acting as a natural filtration system for several million gallons of water each day from the Palm Beach County's Southern Region Water Reclamation Facility. The nearby Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach are another hotspot for rookeries and other wildlife attractions. There's no admission charge for either location. 

In Broward County, the Anne Kolb Nature Center provides ample opportunity to wander in 1,500-acre-plus mangrove wetlands. In Miami-Dade, check out Oleta River State Park, which includes wetlands in addition to coastal water access. 

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