By Dave Warren

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Everglades Foundation recently awarded $125,000 to graduate students whose scientific and economic research is working to protect our environment.

CBS4 spoke to two of these “Foreverglades” scholars from Florida International University who are studying the effects of climate change and are already ambassadors for our unique South Florida ecosystem.

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FIU masters candidate Natasha Viadero goes deep in the Everglades to gather samples for her research. A Miami native, she was familiar with the river of grass, to a degree.

“I didn’t get to really experience the wilderness part of it until joining the lab ( FIU Fisheries Lab) and taking a 45-minute boat ride to this remote area,” Viadero explains.

Her research is looking at how sea-level rise impacts freshwater largemouth bass, specifically in the Everglades Shark River.

It is a popular catch for anglers, and an important fish to follow.

“They are considered a top predator and can kind of indicate how the health of those around are doing. If there is a lot of bass, and they are really healthy, that that’s a good indication that all the pre-species and everything that supports that is also relatively healthy,” said Viadero.

Jonathan Rodemann is a fellow Panther and Ph.D. candidate. His work is spurred by the massive seagrass die-off in 2015.

When fishing suffers, it hits South Florida’s economic well-being too.

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“Recreational fishing in South Florida is actually valued at $430 million a year,” he said.

“My research is looking into large scale seagrass die-off effects the movement and habitat use of recreational sport fish in Florida Bay such as snapper, sea trout, and redfish.” We have the technology now that we can actually triangulate fish positions within different habitats.”

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A nonprofit organization, The Everglades Foundation, has awarded over one million dollars since 2008 for cutting-edge environmental research.

Beyond the academic pursuit, Natasha and Jonathan have developed a fondness and deep appreciation for the Everglades.

“You really start to see the beauty and all the wildlife and just how intricate that system really is, it’s an amazing place,” said Viadero.

Rodemann, who is from New Jersey, plans to stay here and hopes many generations will experience what he has come to love about the Everglades.

“Out fishing for a day or hiking through the Everglades, it’s such a great experience and I want people in the future to experience that.”

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Applications for the 2021 Foreverglades scholars and fellows program will open in February 2021.

Dave Warren