Dear Friend of the National Parks,

It's been an eventful summer across our region, and we've been working hard to help bring about stronger protections for our shared lands and waters. Read on to discover the latest victories, challenges and conservation opportunities ahead.

In this issue:

Restoration victory: Kissimmee River

Over the summer, NPCA joined with agency leaders and fellow stakeholders to celebrate the complete restoration of the Kissimmee River! The naturally meandering Kissimmee River, the headwaters of America's Everglades, was channelized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1970s and converted from a vibrant ecosystem to a dying canal – 90% of birds disappeared from the region, and fish populations plummeted. The mistake was realized almost immediately, and work to restore the natural river began in the 1990s. Now, over 22 years later, this project is one of the largest ecosystem restoration successes on the planet. The river was fully de-channelized and now thrives as a vibrant ecosystem once again.

This success is significant not only here in Florida, but nationally and even globally, because it shows that landscape-scale restoration can be achieved. When the conditions were restored, the water and wildlife quickly returned – nature will heal if given the opportunity. Over the years, NPCA’s Sun Coast team has supported this effort through advocacy both in Florida and in Washington, DC, helping to secure Everglades restoration funding so Kissimmee River Restoration, and the whole suite of Everglades projects, can move from concept to reality.

Florida's coral reefs need stronger protections – lend your voice to the call for conserving our reefs!

NPCA is leading efforts to support the strongest protections possible for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which includes a significant portion of the Florida Reef Tract – the third largest barrier reef ecosystem on the planet and the only one in the continental United States. Bordering three of America's iconic national parks -- Everglades, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas -- the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is a national treasure in its own right. The Sanctuary is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and protects over 6,000 marine species and approximately 800 underwater cultural and historical sites. The Sanctuary helps support over 40,000 jobs and contributes an estimated $4.4 billion annually to Florida's economy. 

We also know that this treasured ecosystem is threatened by a host of stressors including climate change, coral diseases, pollution and overfishing. That is why NPCA and partners have mobilized to save this valuable resource. NOAA is in the process of updating the “Restoration Blueprint” which is essentially a roadmap for increasing protections within the Sanctuary; the Restoration Blueprint will also have far-reaching benefits for the connected marine ecosystems bordering the Sanctuary.

You may have received our recent action alert urging the Administrator of NOAA to take bold and protective measures for the future of the Sanctuary, its resources, and the communities that depend on a healthy reef ecosystem for jobs and coastal flood protection (learn more and take action here). Protecting and restoring coral reefs are directly in line with President Biden’s America the Beautiful plan to conserve 30% of America's lands, waters and oceans by 2030.

NPCA has been working for years calling for stronger, science-based protections for the Sanctuary and we hope to see this work soon culminate in a plan that will expand the Sanctuary’s boundaries, thereby extending protection to critical corridors and healthy coral populations. If you have not already done so, please consider sending a quick email and lending your voice to this important call to conserve our coral reefs. 

Discovering the Jones family of Biscayne National Park

This summer NPCA welcomed Cultural Resources Intern, Eliza Trevor, who focused her internship on researching the history of the Jones Family, a remarkable family whose legacy lives on today in Biscayne National Park. Through in-depth research and work to understand the chronology of the family members’ lives, Eliza was able to help NPCA tell a more robust and accurate story of this incredible African American family. The Jones family exemplifies the American success story of perseverance and triumph over adversity. Theirs is a story of a family who, in the deep South of the late 19th Century, owned land and built a thriving business and welcoming home on the keys of Biscayne Bay. Despite their many contributions to the South Florida community, their inspiring story remains relatively unknown among Floridians – and NPCA is working to change that in several ways. We are producing and sharing educational materials that tell the story of this inspiring family, and we are urging the National Park Service to better protect Biscayne National Park’s marine resources—the very resources that helped bring prosperity to the Jones family. This October, join us in celebrating the second Monday of the month (falling on October 11th this year) which is recognized by Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties as “Lancelot Jones Day.”

Clean air matters

Clean air matters to everyone—for our health, the health of wildlife and for everyone's enjoyment of scenic vistas. Recently, NPCA spoke up for clean air in Florida by calling for the State to consider the industry practice of burning sugarcane when identifying and reducing emissions from air pollution sources that make our skies hazy, compromise public health and harm air quality in protected areas. The Regional Haze Rule is a program under the Clean Air Act that is intended to cut pollution from industrial sources with the aim of restoring natural air quality to our treasured national parks and wilderness areas. The rule requires each state to develop implementation plans once a decade to meet those standards. Recently, Florida updated its haze plan and unfortunately, it contains several flaws that fail to adequately meet the goal of achieving reasonable progress toward haze-free skies.

NPCA staff delivered extensive comments to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FL DEP) concerning multiple issues with the proposed haze plan. Notably, FL DEP omitted consideration of nitrogen oxides, a primary contributor to hazy skies. The state exempted numerous coal plants and industrial pulp and paper and chemical facilities from full analysis in their haze planning- and ultimately their plan does very little to limit haze-causing air pollution. NPCA also raised concerns that Florida left out addressing environmental justice considerations and sugarcane burning as a source of haze pollution that harm local communities and pollute the Everglades. Florida's sugar industry burns pre-harvest fields eight months of the year on more than 400,000 acres located within the Everglades Agricultural Area. A harmful and outdated practice, these annual agricultural fires release numerous haze-causing pollutants, greenhouse gasses and cause serious health problems.

The FL DEP still has time to improve their plan before submitting it to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the EPA then has an opportunity to help correct the flaws in DEP’s proposal.

Community members applaud decision by the National Park Service affecting the future of Caneel Bay, USVI

Late this past summer, the National Park Service (NPS) announced that they will undertake a competitive public bid process in order to find an entity to operate the storm-battered and currently defunct Caneel Bay Resort at Virgin Islands National Park on St. John. Leading up to this decision, the Park Service held virtual public meetings to better understand community feedback and viewpoints with regards to the future of the iconic resort within the national park. The site, which is home to valuable archaeological resources and natural wonders that are beloved by community members and visitors alike, faces many hurdles ahead as there are varied hazardous materials polluting the site that first have to be fully evaluated and then properly cleaned up. However, the decision to pursue this leasing pathway is being applauded by many, including NPCA, as an important step forward.

Park Superintendent Nigel Fields stated that the decision to take this step “reflects our commitment to ensuring the future of Caneel Bay is planned with consideration for the voices of our visitors and the communities whose histories we are charged with preserving here.” In the coming months, we can next expect to see an Environmental Assessment (EA) prepared by NPS which will provide another important opportunity for the public to weigh into this process.

Thank you for all you do, and I hope you will stay connected with us at NPCA. Your support means so much!

Warm regards,




Melissa E. Abdo, Ph.D.
Regional Director, Sun Coast

Photos, from top: Kissimmee River | © South Florida Water Management District; Sea Turtle on Molasses Reef | © K Grif; Virgin Islands National Park | © Douglass Rissing/iStockphoto