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In this Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, photo, Ian Bartoszek, right, and Ian Easterling carry a 14-foot, 95-pound, female Burmese python out of an upland habitat in Naples, Fla. A male python fitted with a radio transmitter implant led them to the female a couple yards from an upscale housing development. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

To save Everglades, guardians fight time - and climate

Grabbing a clump of vegetation to steady herself, Tiffany Troxler gingerly slides her feet along the makeshift boardwalk as she ventures out into the marsh. The boards sag, dipping her up to her knees in the tea-colored water.

"This is the treacherous part," the Florida International University researcher says. "The water levels are up."

To a layman, this patch of brown-green saw grass and button mangrove deep inside Everglades National Park looks healthy enough, but Troxler knows trouble lurks just beneath the murky surface. She points to a clump of grass: Beneath the water line, the soil has retreated about a foot, leaving the root mass exposed. It is evidence that the thick mat of peat supporting this ecosystem is collapsing — and research suggests encroaching sea water is to blame.

"You can think about these soils as your bank account," says Troxler, associate director of FIU's Sea Level Solutions Center. "In the condition that this marsh is right now, the outlook is not good."

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