A half-century ago, school kids were taught that they could survive the nuclear apocalypse by ducking under desks. These days, it’s an ecological apocalypse they worry about—and there’s not much we can tell them to do to prevent the climate from warming or the water from continuing to creep up our shorelines. Still, there’s hope. From sea life to sea level change, meet the people on the front lines of the fight to save the planet. They toil in the obscurity of government, fight in courtrooms, and wrestle bureaucracy in board meetings, all in an effort to advocate for the ecological future of South Florida.
Jessica Harvey: Tracking the Creatures Her Father Paints
You likely know of Jessica Harvey’s father, Guy: the painter of billfish and maker of T-shirts, who is responsible for an entire industry that sprung up around his popular ocean-centric clothing.
Jessica Harvey, though, is equally as deserving of fame. She’s a project manager and board member at the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, a group her father founded to help protect the seas. Today, it awards grants to researchers looking to save endangered sea creatures.
The younger Harvey grew up in the Caymans and went to boarding school on Vancouver Island. She studied zoology at the University of Edinburgh and has spent four years at the foundation, which is headquartered in Fort Lauderdale.
Among the foundation’s projects is an effort to tag and track sharks and billfish. One of the studies found that short-fin mako sharks travel much farther than previously believed—some of the sharks regularly passed through the waters of 17 countries. What that means is that more coordination is needed to make sure government regulations are protecting species that are in danger or already overfished, Harvey says.
The studies also found that the mako were harvested more than anyone knew, and overfishing sharks can lead to a collapse of ecosystems. “It’s an alarming rate, and if we don’t do something soon it’s going to have widespread effects on our species,” Harvey says.
While it can be “super depressing and overwhelming” to work every day with studies that show just how much the oceans are threatened, Harvey says there are bright points. “If there’s anything that gives us hope, it’s the next generation that comes up with new ideas,” she says. “Our environment can bounce back if we give it a chance.”
Jennifer Jurado: Preparing for the Deluge
Anyone who’s dealt with the slow-moving wheels of government knows that progress is often a painful process. Imagine, then, being in charge of coordinating climate change efforts with all 31 municipalities in Broward County.
That’s Jennifer Jurado’s job as the county government’s chief resilience officer. She’s been working on climate change initiatives since 2008, when the region first established a climate change task force to get government agencies to work together.
For Jurado, working to protect the environment is in step with her upbringing. She was raised mostly in Idaho, in an area where camping meant heading into a park and pitching a tent anywhere you please. Her family vacationed in Florida when she was 14, and she remembers “just being in awe” when she first saw the ocean.
During college—first in Boise and then at the University of Miami—Jurado worked on projects to protect sea turtles in Mexico. In Colombia, she came across a bridge project that had cut off wetlands from sea water, killing a whole forest of mangroves. “On one side of the bridge was the ocean, and on the other, as far as you could see there were dead mangroves everywhere,” she recalls.
In that moment, Jurado knew she wanted to get into the business of protecting the environment. She earned a PhD in marine biology from the University of Miami. In her work with Broward County, she took charge of sustainable water resource management and sea level rise adaptation. In 2014, she spent a year on the President’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change for her leadership on environmental efforts.
Among Jurado’s current goals? Converting the county’s vehicle fleet to green vehicles by 2050 and expanding sources of renewable energy. There’s also the constant analysis and planning to make sure our infrastructure can function as sea levels continue to rise.
For now, Jurado says the county has plans in place for 2 feet of sea level rise by 2050, matching many estimates. If things get worse than that, the county’s efforts get far more difficult. “I’m very confident that we can meet the challenges before us in 2050,” Jurado says. “We have the engineering, we have the materials, we have the methods.”
Barry Faske: From Green Buildings to Government Preparedness
Barry Faske’s family history in South Florida dates back to 1910, when his grandparents arrived on Miami Beach to find a town with no paved roads. He remembers heading out to the Everglades on Boy Scout trips, stopping at farms along the way to pick tomatoes, pole beans, and strawberries. Today, those boyhood stomping grounds are nothing but housing developments.
“It’s unfortunate that there are a lot of things I got to enjoy growing up that don’t exist anymore,” Faske says.
It’s for that reason he has spent much of his life working on environmental issues and is a regular volunteer on task forces and government efforts to prepare for climate change.
By day, Faske is an environmental consultant. He works with contractors looking to get projects certified under green building rules. While that might sound like something exclusively for those who can afford it, Faske says nowadays he often works on affordable housing projects.
On the side, Faske has volunteered for environmental protection efforts. In 2014, he served on a Hollywood advisory board working on standards for green building projects. In 2016, he began working with the Broward County Climate Change Task Force, reviewing and updating an action plan outlining how Broward should react to rising seas. Dictating how to save dunes and keep seawalls above the water height will be crucial in coming years, and Faske says the plans in place could be enough to keep us all dry. “We’re getting more prepared all the time,” he notes.
Even with governments getting ready for sea level rise, homeowners still are likely unprepared for how much insurance will go up in coming years, Faske says. But, he adds, the good news is that the business world has begun to see the economic benefit of being ready before flooding begins.
Richard Grosso: The Environment’s Lawyer
When Richard Grosso was a boy, he looked around at the beach in North Miami-Dade and wondered how it had become home to so many high-rises. He asked himself: Who got to decide that the dunes would become condos, and why wasn’t there more of an effort to keep the beaches for the turtles, birds, and next generation of kids?
Grosso graduated from North Miami High in 1979 and went off to college at Florida State. His family hadn’t been outdoorsy when he was a kid, but in Tallahassee he discovered the forests and rivers. He camped with friends and spent the night in the woods, crystalizing his love for the environment. He stayed at Florida State for law school and then took a job working on environmental law with the state of Florida. It quickly became clear to Grosso that there were many legal advocates for development—and few to make sure growth didn’t come at the expense of the environment.
“I realized early on that environmentalists had few lawyers working for them,” Grosso says. “I always had an interest in representing the underdogs.”
After working for the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, Grosso began a long career as a public interest lawyer, first as legal director of 1000 Friends of Florida. Then in 1986, he took over an organization focused on protecting the South Florida ecosystem. He renamed it the Everglades Law Center, and it has since been among the most successful legal advocates for environmental issues.
The center is based at Nova Southeastern University’s Environmental and Land Use Law Clinic, and Grosso employed a team of student interns who helped him research cases. They took on projects that often seemed insurmountable. They stopped the former Homestead Air Force Base from becoming a commercial airport that would have threatened protected Everglades land.
Their milestone Pinecrest Lakes case saw a developer construct buildings even though Grosso’s team had sued to get the project halted. When a judge sided with Grosso, the decision forced the developer to tear the buildings down. The case still serves as a warning to developers: Florida environmental law will be enforced. “You can fight city hall, but you need a really good, committed team to do it,” Grosso says.
Perhaps the case that would cement his legacy most of all was the placement of Scripps Research Institute’s campus. When the state government offered the research institution a chunk of the Everglades if they built here, Grosso sued. The case eventually forced the relocation of Scripps to a campus in the heart of Jupiter.
“The Scripps case was fulfilling because we had the courage to stand up to a lot of powerful economic interests,” he says. “It turns out we were right that you could put a job-generating industry in the right location and it could do better than if you put it in the wrong location.”
In 2021, Grosso left his full-time faculty position at Nova Southeastern University and opened his own practice dedicated to the environment. “It’s a really crucial time for the world, certainly South Florida. I felt like I needed to be back in the game full-time.”
Even after three decades of advocating for the environment, Grosso says he still finds himself in the same kind of fights. Right now, Miami-Dade is considering expanding State Road 836 into protected lands, a policy that Grosso says sounds like it’s from the 1950s.
“It’s this really critical moment that we find ourselves in right now, and we don’t learn from past mistakes,” he says. “If we don’t learn soon, we’re going to run out of time.”