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When it comes to climate change, one thing is certain: our oceans are rising. And South Florida is expected to be among the first regions on Earth to experience the impact. In fact, some initial preparations are already underway. WLRN-Miami Herald News presents a series of stories about the effects of sea-level rise. The project is called “Elevation Zero: Rising Seas In South Florida." Click through the pages below to see our entire archive of Elevation Zero stories.

Wild Money: Crocs, Cash And Sea-Level Rise

Brian Jeffery
University of Florida IFAS

As water levels rise in the Everglades, are prolific pythons and their iguana cousins going to come slithering out, seeking higher ground and pushing out our local crocs? The very idea makes most of us want to relocate.

It turns out wildlife biologists and other scientists have been studying for the past few years what might happen to more than 20 Everglades species. One conclusion: Soon, we all may be scrambling for a higher perch.

Laura Brandt is one of those scientists. She’s a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Fort Lauderdale and one of the authors of a study focusing on the effects of sea-level rise on Everglades fauna.

“What could happen to the crocodiles, just as with sea turtles and beach-nesting birds,” says Brandt, “is they may not either be able to find higher ground, or their eggs are more likely to get flooded when we have rainfall events or higher high tides.”

So they need higher ground, just like us. Or habitat restoration.

Different animals will respond differently to changes in sea level, rainfall and temperature. Gators thrive in temperate climates north of Palm Beach County but in South Florida, tropical crocs will be among the hardest hit by changes water and temperature conditions.

Credit University of Florida IFAS
Rainfall levels as predicted to 2080.

  As sea level rises, living conditions are becoming less attractive to our indigenous wildlife -- not to mention the impact of invasive pythons and iguanas that reproduce more abundantly than crocs and sea turtles.

So why don’t the threatened beasts move? Because they have nowhere to go. Farther north is too cold and Caribbean coastlines aren’t going to fare any better than ours.

Speaking of fares, there’s an economic toll to doing nothing about their plight: Endangered tropical wildlife affects our wallets.

“People come to Florida to see wildlife,” Brandt points out. “And one of the first things that people ask when they come across the Florida-Georgia line is, ‘Where can I see an alligator?’

“There’s also the whole hunting, fishing, wildlife-viewing, bird-watching industry down here,” Brandt says.

All those industries are supported by homegrown and imported pleasure-seeking nature enthusiasts who want to go huntin’, fishin’ and bird watchin’. Recreational fishing alone generates $1.2 billion a year in economic activity within the Everglades Region.

So what can be done to protect the creatures and the cash?

Comprehensive Everglades restoration is essential to support wildlife and wallets, the scientists say. Naturally, a 13-county habitat-restoration plan costs money, but according to the Everglades Foundation, there’s a four-to-one economic benefit.

And that forecast looks like good news for all south Floridians, human and croc, python or not.