When I saw Everglades National Park first time, my impression was “What a swamp”! The park ranger told us that time that it is quite common impression among tourists coming to this beautiful, mysterious, and wild landscape, which is unlike any other. Continue reading about “the River of Grass” …
South Florida is often conflated with beauty, but her most magnificent edges reside far away from models and lounges and white-sand beaches. The real glory of this region lays in the slow trickle of freshwater percolating over a sawgrass prairie, before winding its way into an alligator- and otterich current that snakes over mudflats and sedge basins into the ruquoise explosion of Florida Bay. This is the Everglades, and it is a wilderness like no other.
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Contrary to what you may have heard, the Everglades isn’t a swamp. Or at least, it’s not only a swamp, even if it look like one (see photo below).
What is the Everglades then?
It is most accurately characterized as a wet prairie – grasslands that happen to be flooded most of the year. Nor is it stagnant. In the wet season, a horizon-wide river creeps ever so slowly beneath the rustling saw grass and around the subtly raised cypress and hardwood hammocks toward the ocean.
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In the pictures below you can observe what the historic flow was, and what is the current one.
The Everglades has two seasons: the summer wet season and the winter dry season. Winter – from December to April – is the prime time to visit: the weather is mild and pleasand, and the wildlife is out in abundance. In summer – May throught October – it’s stifingly hot, humid and buggy, with frequent afternoon thunderstorms. In addition, as water sources spread out, so the animals disperse.
The most endangered national park in the USA
While the Everglades has a history dating back to prehistoric times, the park wasn’t founded until 1947. It is considered the most endangered national park in the USA, as for over 100 years Everglades was dredged, dammed, and drained in order to control the ebb and flow of water, which is the lifeblood of the Everglades. Today there is hope. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan has been enacted to undo some of the damage done by draining (oil resources has been found under the Everglades) and development.
Restoration projects are attempting to emulate the natural flow of clean water to revitalize altered habitats. Interestingly, Everglades is one of a few national parks in the United States established to protect unparalleled biological diversity. It is also the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S., and International Biospehere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance.
Early results are encouraging – birds are returning to nest and nonnative plants have been removed in the wetlands restoration west of Royal Palm.
Nature in the Everglades National Park
Alligators play a crucial role in the natural water management of the Everglades. During the dry season, gators take refuge in water-filled holes in the bedrock that they clear of muck and vegetation. Gator holes serve as an oasis for a myriad of life. Fish, turtles, and birds, along with the alligators, find food and water for sustenance while the glades are parched. When summer rains return, life moves from the gators holes to repopulate the open glades.
Cypress trees thrive in flooded conditions. Cypress forests often grow in the shape of a dome, with taller trees in the center of the dome, or in a linear “strand” where tree growth follows the flow of water. A long-lived, deciduous wetland species, cypress can live as long as 600 years.
The anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), sometimes called snakebird is a very common species of bird in the Everglades. In the photo on the left, we can observe the female anhinga with a characteristic pale gray-buff or light brown head, neck, and upper chest.
Great blue heron
The great blue heron (Ardea herodias) is a large wading bird in the heron family Ardeidae, common near the shores of open water and in wetlands over most of North America and Central America, as well as the Caribbean and the Galápagos Islands.
The most invasive species in the Everglades
The Everglades is inhabited by over 67 endangered species, including the manatee, Florida panther and the American crocodile. It is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles co-exist. The recent threat for Everglades is far greater than it has ever been before. When I heared about it, I was very suprised. It is the non-native one of the five largest species of snakes in the world – Burmese python. Many of you could ask – what Burmese python is doing in South Florida? Scientists believe that these reptiles originally began as house pets but were released into the Everglades by owners who could not care for them anymore. During hurricane Andrew, pythons escaped from a breeding facility, also contributing to the population boom. In 2009, more than 1330 phytons have been captured in the Everglades. Three years later the U.S. Department of the Interior announced a ban for the import of Burmese pythons.
A 2012 report stated:
“in areas where the snakes are well established, foxes and rabbits have disappeared. Sightings of raccoons are down by 99.3%, opossums by 98.9%, and white-tailed deer by 94.1%.”
Bird and coyote populations may be threatened, as well as the already-rare Florida panther.
Last, but not least exceptionally large pythons may even require larger food items such as pigs or goats, and are known to have attacked and eaten alligators and adult deer in Florida. Below, you can watch a movie where Burmese python eats alligator.
Main photo: Although it looks like swamp, the Everglades is the “river of Grass”. Two gators in the middle. Author of the photo: Rafal Chudy