It is almost unimaginable to travel anywhere in the world in today’s society without using roads or other forms of surface for transportation. Roads and highways, especially in the United States, are crucial components in maintaining economic prosperity and growth, and have been an integral part of daily life for decades. Roads have evolved from compressed paths of vegetation created by animals to the asphalt and concrete roads that currently exist. Unfortunately, the damage to the surrounding environment that the construction of roads and highways create is often overlooked. In the United States, one area of the country that is dealing with environmental harm due to roads and road construction is the state of Florida. Home to approximately twenty percent of all wetlands in the United States (SWFWMD), the creation of roads in these areas harm fish and wildlife, damage the natural hydrology and nutrient cycle, and pose a threat to the local economy and revenue that the wetlands create.
While the creation of roads and highways facilitate human travel and the transportation of goods, roads and highways in the Florida wetlands significantly harm the local fish and wildlife that reside in the wetlands. According to the National Wildlife Federation, there are over four hundred and fifty different species of fish and wildlife that use wetlands in Florida as their habitat. Wetlands provide wildlife spawning and nursery habitat for various species, ideal nesting conditions and protection from predators. The wetlands also house complex food chains (University of Florida). However, the construction and presence of roads and highways in the Florida wetlands are severely altering these habitats, causing the loss of many of the native fish and wildlife species. One way that roads harm life in the wetlands is through storm water runoff. Rain and water that enters the wetlands collects heavy metals, oils, and greases from roads and parking lots built on wetlands, with many of these discharges being toxic to the species living in those areas. During the construction of roads and highways, the amount of dredging and movement of soil severely damages wetlands habitats by blocking sunlight from entering the water, which stifles the amount of dissolved oxygen, and kills off submerged vegetation (FDEP). Since 1990, almost eleven million acres of wetlands in Florida have been lost due to road construction and other forms of development, with dozens of species brought to near extinction, such as the Florida panther (USGS). Although roads are necessary for human travel and daily life, it is important to realize the consequences that they have on the surrounding environment, and consider more effective placements and sustainable constriction of roads to minimize the damage that is done.
The creation and presence of roads and highways also have a harmful impact on the natural hydrologic and nutrient cycles of wetlands. The presence of impervious surfaces prevents rain and storm water from percolating into the soil and the underground water table. Instead, rain and storm water often collect and remain on the surface, preventing a recharging of wetlands and surrounding wells that local residents rely on for domestic activities (NCSU). Reducing the volume of ground water will limit the natural amount of evaporation that occurs, which alters the frequency of rainfall, thus disrupting the natural hydrologic cycle. Conversely, the construction of roads and highways can cause impoundments and damming, effectively draining sections of wetlands and flooding other ones. This can cause an increase in water temperature, lower dissolved oxygen levels for plant and marine life, and change salinity and pH levels to an extent that certain species in a wetland ecosystem can no longer survive in (NCSU). Water from impervious surfaces that runoff into wetlands can carry salts, pesticides, organic matter, and wastes that can increase the levels of turbidity and water toxicity. This runoff can also cause eutrophication and algae blooms from nutrient overloads and release phosphorus and other pollutants that wetlands absorb into the atmosphere and other waterways (USEPA). In order for wetland ecosystems to survive, there needs to be an education of both public officials and the general public to understand the consequences of having a widespread transportation system.
Finally, the destruction of Florida wetlands from roads and highways poses a major threat to the revenue that local communities and the state of Florida receive from tourism to wetland areas. For example, Everglades National Park, an area in southern part of Florida, is a major source of income for tourism, and contains hundreds of different species of wildlife and plants. Everglades National Park is the tenth largest national park in the United States and the largest in Florida (Briney), making its conservation and maintenance of revenue a high priority. In 2012, Everglades National Parks’ total revenue was approximately one hundred and three million dollars, and created almost fifteen hundred jobs for workers in the surrounding communities (Plumb). Cities surrounding the perimeters of the park such as Fort Lauderdale and Naples have swelling populations, and the entire state of Florida is expected to increase almost by 10 million people by 2030. The Center for Biological Diversity’s Population and Sustainability warned that adding more residents will threaten the boundaries of the Everglades, as much of the available land in south Florida has already developed. A large increase in the population will lead to more cars and other forms of transportation becoming necessary in and around these cities, causing the creation of a more extensive road system that will encroach upon or completely destroy natural habitats in the Everglades and in other wetland areas. If the Everglades start to lose acreage and its unique characteristics that attract tourists, then the state will experience a loss in revenue, hurting the surrounding communities. The need for travel and transportation, while imperative to daily activities, has to be balanced against the importance of protecting the environment. It will take governmental measures and a shift in public thinking to allow large-scale environmental stewardship to occur.
The construction of roads and highways is a major contributor to the destruction of the surrounding environment. It is critical to educate the general public about the damages that our roadways cause, and the state of Florida and their environmental issues because of the damages is an excellent example to use. Changes need to be made to road systems and the design of communities and cities in order to prevent widespread environmental damage that has serious consequences of habitat destruction, air and water pollution, and decreased economic prosperity. If these changes are made, then the state of Florida, and the rest of the world, can reduce environmental damage, while still having the luxuries of a transportation system.
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Plumb, Mary. “Tourism in Everglades National Park.” National Park Service. US Department of the Interior, 3 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.
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