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American Magazine: August 2014

THE EVERGLADES SPANS TWO

THE EVERGLADES SPANS TWO MILLION SQUARE ACRES IN FLORIDA. IT’S HOME TO MORE THAN 900 TYPES OF FISH AND CRUSTACEANS, 830 VARIETIES OF PLANTS, 250 SPECIES OF BIRDS, 65 DIFFERENT REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS, 40 SPECIES OF MAMMALS, AND A WHOLE LOT OF INSECTS. ONE MAN LEADS THE ORGANIZATION THAT’S ITS BEST HOPE FOR SURVIVAL. WILL ERIC EIKENBERG, SPA/BA ‘98, SUCCEED? PHOTO BY AARON ANSAROV 30 AMERICAN MAGAZINE AUGUST 2014

BY MIKE UNGER In the Everglades, where water seemingly engulfs everything and everyone in a mucky, haunting landscape the size of New Jersey and Connecticut, Eric Eikenberg sees a thirsty ecosystem. On this breezy and surprisingly pleasant-for-Florida mid-May day, the CEO of the Everglades Foundation sits atop an airboat’s three tiers of benches pointing out signs that the largest subtropical wetlands in North America is critically wounded—and slowly being revived. “In January or even February this is about three feet of water,” he says as the boat floats in six inches of muddy water known as slough. “When the water flowed naturally, you would have enough here during this part of the dry season. You have eight million people who rely on this ecosystem for drinking water. But if we don’t engineer this correctly, you’re going to lose habitat for this national treasure. It’s a complex balancing act, both scientifically and politically.” Eikenberg, SPA/BA ’98, has been a lead player in this delicate dance since being tapped in 2012 to head the country’s most prominent Everglades advocacy organization. A former political operative and lobbyist, he now fights for reptiles with the same fervor he once did for Republicans. He takes off his Nikes and white socks, rolls up his khakis, and hops off the boat onto one of the thousands of tiny islands in this 50-mile-wide, 125-mile-long slowly flowing river. “This is what my kids think I do all day,” FOLLOW US @AU_AMERICANMAG 31