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Florida Everglades

By: C.M.Shorter

Florida Everglades Saltwater Marsh
Sawgrass Marsh with Spatterdock
Pictures of Florida Everglades >>

The Florida Everglades is a vast wetland ecosystem encompassing over 4,500 miles of slow moving waters feeding this ever changing tropical habitat. This unique river flows into the tidal creek estuaries and into the saltwater mangroves and sawgrass marshes shaping the Everglades we know today. Formed over thousands of years its waters and vegetation provides home to thousands of animals, birds, fish, plants, and reptilian species. No wonder the Everglades is often referred to as one of our nation's natural treasures with its wide diversity of plant & animal life. The Everglades is America's only sub-tropical wilderness and visitors travel from all over the world over to experience its natural beauty. The Florida Everglades is one of nature's true masterpieces with its diverse scenery of pine and freshwater cypress forests, open prairie, and tropical saltwater mangrove swamps. It is amazing to tour this fragile ecosystem and to see newly hatched wading birds nesting above the alligators and crocodiles which at first seems rather startling, but it actually keeps many predators from reaching the young in this closely woven circle of life.

Outdoor activities are many from camping to big game sports fishing, backwoods fishing, hiking, bicycling & equestrian riding where there are trails and, of course, the popular water sports of snorkeling, diving & swimming, water and jet skiing. Every conservationist asks that those who travel here to respect the wildlife and to keep the human interference minimal. The Everglades National Park is unusual with its southeast aquatic borders including the Gulf Coast gateway to Ten Thousand Islands accessible only by waterways. Alligator Alley, the Tamiami Trail and U.S. 1 are the main roads intersecting this tropical paradise. Off-road bring your nautical charts because you will need them to see the rest of this untamed wilderness by motorboat, backwater charter, or even by canoe or kayak for the brave at heart.

Until the 1930's the Florida Everglades was virtually undisturbed without human interference. The natural water flow pattern under which the Everglades evolved over 5,000 years ago has not existed now for over 75 years. The implementation of various water control programs and urbanization disrupted the rivers natural flow, draining and redirecting water flows causing considerable negative ramifications to this delicate natural ecosystem. Many battles have been fought by conservationist against developers who view the land as a marsh wasteland and would like nothing better than to drain off the land for commercial development.

We can all thank Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a staunch advocate for protection of the Everglades. She worked throughout her life to bring awareness to the public of the need to protect this fragile environment. Marjory Stoneman Douglas made her home here in South Florida and published one of the best known conservation books to date: "The Everglades: River of Grass " to educate people and increase public awareness about the Everglades.


The Florida Everglades is a natural self-generating hydroponic system with its primary watershed starting near Chokoloskee Bay and the Kissimmee River in central Florida flowing southward to the mangrove estuaries of the Gulf of Mexico. It is in the spring that the "wet cycle" begins with the onset of our rainy season and the soon to follow hurricane storms propelled our way off the coast of South Africa. A constantly regenerating cycle of rain, evaporating and rising into cool air then falling again in raindrops feeds and nourishes plants and animal life. Freshwater is collected in the underground aquifers of limestone meeting up with the bordering brackish coastal waters. This fresh water rainfall collected historically in Lake Okeechobee which spans over 730 square miles and has reached alarming low water table levels in recent years from its optimal level of almost 15 feet. The rainy season is followed by a "dry season" which lasts from December through April. Attempts to control the water flow by dredging, digging, dike construction and building for more than a 50 year period had a detrimental effect on the entire Everglade's interdependent ecosystem. There is an $8 billion dollar restoration project underway to restore the natural water flow through this River of Grass.

Every species is dependent on the watershed levels and flows within the estuaries. The animals are well adapted to the alternating seasons of the wet and dry cycle and, in fact they need both to flourish. It is during the dry periods fish and wildlife are concentrated in smaller pools of water which makes excellent feeding grounds for the many of the wading birds. The Florida Everglades is home to many birds and raptors such as Bald Eagles, Common Egrets & Herons, Grebes, Great White Egrets, Great Blue Heron, Moorhens, Pelicans, Red Tailed Hawks, Roseate Spoonbills, Sand-Hill Cranes, Wood Storks, and White Ibis to name a few. It is a fact that in recent years we have lost over 90% of our wading bird population in the southern Everglades and it will take due diligence in species management plans for these wading birds to recover.

The Everglades has numerous tidal pools, ponds, wet prairies, cypress domes, pine flatwood hammocks and marshes teaming with wildlife interspersed throughout every terrain. Tree islands of hardwoods are formed throughout the Everglades bound by sawgrass where you will often find the American Alligator and American Crocodile. These hardwood hammocks are also home to Key Largo Wood Rat, Cotton Mouse, Raccoons, Opossums, Wild Turkeys, White-Tailed Deer, and Wild Hogs feeding and claiming territory. If luck is on your side you may actually get to witness a critically endangered Florida Panther leaping, stalking, swimming or lounging in the nook of a tree. It is when we reach the aquatic saltwater boundaries we will likely see the West Indian Manatees foraging, wild Dolphins swimming free and giant Osprey nesting. Many other animal species are found within the Everglades including rare Tree Snails, Rough Green Snakes, Green Treefrogs, Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes, Eastern Indigo Snakes, Florida Kingsnakes, Gopher Tortoises , and one of my favorites - the Giant Land Crabs who have the heavy duty clean up job!

The deepest fresh water marsh habitats are moved through by two primary sloughs - Shark River Slough, the main freshwater slough located in the central and south Everglades and Taylor Slough located on the eastern side of the southern Everglades. This freshwater flow level is imperative to the survival of many species of animals and aquatic plants like the sawgrass. Phosphorous run-off pollution from the agricultural industry unfortunately has increased the growth of water hyacinths and hydrilla crowding out the native plants and disrupting the intended natural aquatic balance for many species. Many animal species found in the Florida Everglades are "Indicator Species" flourishing only in this habitat. By monitoring only one or two of these indicator species we can tell a great deal about the health and well being of the entire ecosystem and it is hoped the current conservation efforts will continue to benefit all the plant & animal species of the Everglades.

More on Florida Everglades:
Florida Everglades | Pictures of Florida Everglades | Map of Florida Everglades | Animals Florida Everglades | Marjory Stoneman Douglas | Everglades Endangered Species
The full index of all Florida Everglades Information can be found in Tigerhomes.org Education Center

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