The Florida Wildlife Corridor Helps Conserve Water Resources

Photo by Ryan Conley

The Study

Scientists at the Archbold Biological Station partnered with the University of Florida Water Institute to examine how the Florida Wildlife Corridor benefits water resources in the state. There is a critical need for understanding how land conservation benefits wildlife and people to motivate and spring forward new conservation. Archbold has been working to understand ecosystems in Florida for more than 80 years, and part of their mission is to provide credible and verifiable scientific information about Florida’s natural lands, including the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Joshua Daskin Archbold Director of Conservation said regarding water resources,

“We saw that there was a gap in how we understood what the benefits would be for a whole host of water resources, everything from drinking water, water quality, to water supply for agriculture, and more.”

Photo by Bonnie Masdeu

Water Report and Summary

Because of this, Archbold reached out to experts at the University of Florida Water Institute to analyze overlaps between the Corridor and key water resources across the state. Funded by Live Wildly and convened by Archbold, Dr. Wendy Graham led a group of experts to analyze numerous water values in the state that people and ecosystems rely on for health, recreation, and economies. They compared the locations of water resources to the location of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. To help in this process, they created maps about the different water values, such as the drinking water supply. For example, they looked at where the drinking water resources value is and then compared it to a map of the Florida Wildlife Corridor to see how much they overlap. After doing this for each water value, the experts from the University of Florida Water Institute produced an expert report with all their findings. Archbold then took those findings and produced a 12-page summary for each of the big water resource values and major findings from the study. Daskin said, “We’ve distributed both the report and the summary to other scientists, land trusts, and to corridor conservation partners doing legislative advocacy and outreach to help motivate additional funding for land conservation in Florida.”

Major Findings

According to Daskin, “The Florida Wildlife Corridor does a pretty good job of protecting certain water resources.” To be more exact, the Corridor provides strong protection of spring vents, rivers, estuaries, and wetlands. These ecosystems provide fisheries, recreation, carbon sequestration, nutrient capture and cycling, water storage, and flood protection. Yet the study also sheds more light on important factors and water values that need better and more protection. “The corridor is not going to solve all of our water issues in Florida as the state grows, for example, it’s not particularly great at protecting water supply,” Daskin said. 38 percent of the high-priority aquifer recharge areas are in the Corridor meaning the majority are not, as Daskin says “That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just means we can speak credibly about what the Corridor does and doesn’t do, and we know that there are going to be some other strategies that are going to be needed to protect drinking water or water for agriculture.”

A map of the Florida Wildlife Corridor that shows the 10 million acres of protected land within the corridor and the remaining 8 million acres of land that has the opportunity to be conserved.

Map by Angeline Meeks/Archbold Biological Station

Another major finding of this study is that permanent conservation of yet-to-be conserved portions of the Corridor would roughly double the protection of many key water benefits in the state. Those yet-to-be conserved portions or “opportunity areas” are currently quite compatible with wildlife conservation and the protection of more resources. They are natural areas and three-quarters of them are working lands-timber lands and cattle ranches, “keeping them the way they are actually means that we are continuing to protect those water resources and the wildlife resources,” Daskin said. Yet if they become development then we will have lost all the benefits that society gets from intact natural or working lands. The water resources report found that approximately 50 percent of water resources values are yet to be conserved,

“so that means if we don’t conserve the corridor, we will lose roughly half of the water resources values that we’re getting today,” Daskin said.

Aquatic Animal Life

Photo by Linda Wilinski

One might wonder what all of this means for Florida’s many iconic aquatic animal species. Luckily this study finds that the Corridor does a good job of protecting many of those species’ natural habitats. 75 percent of outstanding Florida rivers are conserved, and the length of about 60 percent of the 50 major rivers in the state is within the corridor. This provides a habitat for many fish and aquatic invertebrates, “some aquatic mammals like otters are certainly pretty well protected by the Corridor,” said Daskin.

Big Takeaways & Next Steps

Daskin says the biggest take home here is that “we’re pretty surprised, but happily surprised, at how well a wildlife corridor protects certain water resources,”. He also says that although the Corridor is doing a really good job of protecting certain water resources it does not solve all of Florida’s water problems. Therefore, new strategies need to be put into place to help solve more of these issues and protect more of our water resources in the state. Daskin says that one next big step involves expanding upon this approach. Archbold has begun working with Florida Atlantic University to put together a corridor climate resilience report. Daskin said, “An expert panel will be looking at how conserved and connected large landscapes affect all aspects of climate resilience in the state,”. This will include the resilience of some water resources, human health, flood avoidance, agriculture defense, and more. “We thought that the expert approach of summarizing the existing science has been pretty powerful,” Daskin said, “and we’ll be expanding the themes around which we’re doing that kind of work,”

Learn More

If you’re interested in reading more about the Archbold Biological Station and the University of Florida Water Institute study or would like to look at the expert reports, click the link below to be navigated to their website.

Archbold Biological Station
Avery Joens Storytelling Intern
Avery Joens is a senior in college at the University of Central Florida studying journalism. Her passion for storytelling and environmental reporting is what led her to the Florida Wildlife Corridor. She recently won a Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists award for environmental reporting on a story she did about the Indian River Lagoon. Avery is a Florida native whose love for her state grew through spending time at the beaches, springs, and FL Keys.