By Dr. Phil Buchanan
The future of Pine Island is being decided right now. We could become another Sanibel (which is reaching "buildout"), or we could become a western extension of Cape Coral. Cape Coral has lots of pleasant neighborhoods, canals, and shopping centers, but it has precious few mangroves, native uplands, natural waterways, wetlands, and other natural habitats. Or—if we do our job right, Pine Island could continue to be the kind of place both people and wildlife find to be very special.
In 1750, the world population stood at about one billion people. The Calusa were gone and Pine Island was essentially uninhabited. It took a full 200 years for the world population to little more than double itself to 2.5 billion in 1950, but only another 48 years to much more than double again to the present 5.8 billion. At the present rate of growth, it will double again in a mere 20 years. The world is extremely crowded, and getting more so by the minute.
The United States alone is growing by an incredible 2.5 million people per year—the highest growth rate of any industrialized nation. Six million acres of farmland have been lost to developments in the last ten years alone.
Places to live, grow food, and get clean water to drink and air to breath are scarce—and getting desperately more so by the day. Over 800 million people worldwide presently suffer from malnutrition, while at the same time, food production in many areas is going down instead of up due to land abuse. One-third of the earth’s forests are gone and carbon dioxide levels have increased by 30 percent. More than half of the original 200 million acres of wetlands in the lower 48 states has already been destroyed. Tropical forests are being depleted so quickly that nearly 20 percent of all wildlife species may disappear in the next twenty years. One-quarter of the bird species are already extinct.
There are no more uninhabited Pine Islands out there to which people can pack up and move. We have no choice but to do the best with what we have. So—how are we doing? Check the following statistics and judge for yourself.
A University of Florida study released on 6 March 1998 listed current Lee county population growth at an astounding 9,169 people per year. That’s about 4,000 houses which must be created each year just to cover the new arrivals. Southwest Florida county governments issue more building permits per resident than any other place in the entire United States.
Estimates vary widely because of lack of base line data, but Florida has probably lost about one-third of its wetlands in the last 50 to 60 years. So many people moved to places like Tampa Bay that their sheer numbers destroyed the habitat that motivated them to move there. Pine Island has thus far been spared that scale of devastation, but our losses have been and continue to be significant.
A bipartisan U.S.
Congressional group announced on 1 Feb 98 that the United States is
now losing 28,000 acres of coastal wetlands each year. They did not
give a more detailed breakdown, but Anna Stober, in The Pine Island
Eagle, 18 Feb 98, quoted the Corps of Engineers as saying that they
then had pending in their office requests to fill and build on 3,500
acres of wetlands in Lee and Collier Counties alone. That number,
they said, exceeded all previously approved wetland building permits
for the entire State of Florida, The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,
and the US Virgin Islands combined.
The accuracy of some of these statistics can, of course, be debated. It is clear, though, that the habitat of Southwest Florida, including Pine Island, is under full assault. People are loving it to death.
The Calusa Land Trust
endeavors to help address this critical and urgent problem by
acquiring and preserving environmentally sensitive habitats in the
Pine Island Area.