To celebrate Earth Day today, you might plant a bush or take a long walk to appreciate our planet’s natural beauty. With a little luck, your stroll will be punctuated by birdsong, which is much more than an audio track for people who left their phones and earbuds at home. Birds tell us in no uncertain terms how the Earth is faring.
Darden has been listening closely to the birds, with Audubon Florida, our partner for 14 years, serving as translator. “People may not realize this, but birds are the most visible, apparent indicators of the health of our ecosystem and our food supply,” said Darden Sustainability Manager Kristine Young. A key threat to that ecosystem is ailing Florida Bay, which is suffering from a reduced flow of freshwater from the Everglades because of flood control and drought.
Researchers from Audubon Florida’s Everglades Science Center in Tavernier are working hard to restore Florida Bay, the 800 square miles of water between the southern end of Florida’s mainland and the Florida Keys. Darden pitched in by donating money toward the purchase of a new research boat. In March, the team gave Kristine a tour of Florida Bay, where they pulled dead, rust-colored seagrass from the water (healthy seagrass is emerald green).
“When the seaweed decays, it consumes all the oxygen, causing fish to die,” Kristine said. “If enough fish die, birds are impacted because they eat fish. That’s why birds are such important bellwethers about what’s going on in our coastal waters, and at the center of this are the fish, our food source. It could not be more important.”
The water-quality problem has wide implications. “What’s happening in the Florida Bay is similar to what’s happening in a lot of other coastal areas,” she said.
Everglades National Park is one of the top bird nesting sites in North America. One of the key responsibilities of the Everglades Science Center’s eight employees is tracking and reporting bird counts – within the park and on 300 islands in Florida Bay. “It’s a lot easier to determine how many birds are on an island than how many fish are in the sea,” Kristine said.
'People may not realize this, but birds are the most visible, apparent indicators of the health of our ecosystem and our food supply.'
Since 2002, Darden has contributed more than $360,000 toward Audubon Florida’s conservation efforts in the Everglades and other areas of the state. “It’s extremely important for Darden to support wildlife, bird species, habitat conservation and healthy freshwater because all of those impact fish, our food source,” she said.
“Audubon is grateful for our longstanding partnership with one of America’s great companies,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida. “Darden’s commitment to the environment does not start or end with its sustainable business practices. The company influences others to save water, conserve landscapes and protect birds and wildlife.”
If you want to learn more about Darden’s commitment to reducing the environmental impact of its physical footprint, go to www.darden.com/citizenship/planet.