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Everglades

From Academic Kids

An Anhinga perched on the boardwalk railing
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An Anhinga perched on the boardwalk railing

The Florida Everglades is a subtropical marshland located in the southern portion of the U.S. state of Florida, specifically in parts of Monroe, Collier, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Broward counties. Although much modified by agricultural development in central and southern Florida, the Everglades is the southern half of a large watershed arising in the vicinity of Orlando as the Kissimmee River system. The Kissimmee flows from Taylor Creek, Nubbin Slough, and Fisheating Creek, and discharges into Lake Okeechobee, a very large (730 mi² or 1,890 km²), shallow (10 ft or 3 m) fresh water lake. Water leaving Lake Okeechobee in the wet season forms the Everglades, an annual shallow, slow-moving flood at one time 40 miles wide and over 100 miles long moving southward across a nearly flat, limestone shelf to Florida Bay at the southern end of the state.

Contents

Overview

The Everglades extends from Lake Okeechobee on the north to Florida Bay on the south and was once bordered by Big Cypress Swamp on the west and the Atlantic Coastal Ridge on the east. It has been called the River of Grass (Douglas, 1947) because of the slow flow of water from Okeechobee southward and the predominance of a sedge known as sawgrass. Slighty elevated points in this extremely flat area are covered with trees, usually cypress.

Some 50% of the original Everglades has been lost to agriculture. Most of the rest is now protected in a national park, national wildlife refuge, and water conservation areas. Water from the Everglades is still used as a water supply for major cities in the area, such as Miami. The Everglades is crossed from west to east by a toll road called "Alligator Alley", now part of Interstate 75.

There are several small outlets, such as the Miami River and the New River on the east and the Shark River on the southwest. There is a general south to southwesterly movement of surface water.

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park preserves the southern portion of the Everglades (all south of Tamaimi Trail), but represents only 20 percent of the original wetland area. The Park covers 1.5 million acres (6,000kmē) and is a World Heritage Site. The only highway access is the State Road 9336, running 38 miles (61km) from Florida City to the coast at Flamingo. Excluding the main visitor center and some smaller park facilities, there is no development in the park.

There are a number of car parks and trails within the Park, of which the most famous is the Anhinga trail. This trail allows very close approach to birds such as herons and anhinga. The latter birds often perch on the rails of the boardwalk.

Flora

The soil of the islands is very fertile and is subject to frequent inundations, but gradually the water area is being replaced by land. The vegetation is luxuriant, the live oak, wild lemon, wild orange, cucumber, pawpaw, custard-apple and wild rubber trees being among the indigenous species; there are, besides, many varieties of wild flowers, the orchids being especially noteworthy. There are two seasons, wet and dry, but the climate is equable.

Fauna

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Everglades_alligator_spring_2004_TT.jpg
Alligator in Everglades National Park

Specialities of the park include the Short-tailed Hawk and Smooth-billed Ani, and the Caribbean Flamingo at its only regular North American mainland site, usually near the town of Flamingo. Other wading birds such as herons, egrets, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill and ibises are abundant. Limpkins can also be found in the Everglades.

The raptors include the rare Snail Kite and the very common Red-shouldered Hawk and Osprey.

From Flamingo, the water and mud flats of Florida Bay allow views of pelicans, shorebirds, terns and skimmers.

The otter, alligator and crocodile are found, also deer and the severely endangered Florida panther.

Park Geography

The Everglades National park is surrounded by the urban and agricultural areas of Miami, Homestead, and Florida City to its east, the Florida Straits and Florida Keys to its south, the Gulf of Mexico to its west and Big Cypress National Preserve to its north. Big Cypress is similar to the northern portion of the Everglades and it is about half the size of the park itself.

In the southeastern section of the park is the Earnest F. Coe Visitor Center, the park headquarters. It is located just to the west of Homestead and Florida City on state road 9336. Four miles to the west of the headquarters is the Royal Palm Visitor center. The general area of Royal Palm and the headquarters is nestled in a pineland area, as are the Hidden Lake Education and Daniel Beard Centers a few miles to the west. The large Taylor Slough runs from Royal Palm to Florida Bay. To the west of Royal Palm is also Long Pine Key. Long Pine Key (which is not actually an island) is located about four miles from Royal Palm on 9336 and is a prominent camping area in the forest like pineland area. Another four miles to the west on 9336 is the Pahayokee Overlook, which is a raised observation platform that overlooks the park to the north.

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Blue_Heron.JPG
A Great Blue Heron wading in a pond near Shark Valley

Continuing south, 9336 runs through a large cypress swamp. Just on the outside edge of this swamp is Mahogany Hammock, a trail located twenty miles from the headquarters, deep in the park. Even farther south, one comes into the coastal mangrove swamps. Hidden in the thousands of mangrove trees are hundreds of small lakes bay and rivers that empty into the Florida Straits. The swampy estuaries in this area are the only place in the U.S. where crocodiles can be found, and even so, they are very rare. Also in these areas are manatees, which are often spotted at the surface on cool autumn mornings. At the very end of 9336 is the Flamingo Visitor Center, the farthest south visitor center in the park. It is located on the arid coastal prairie and lies just to the north of Florida Bay. Trails leading from Flamingo go west onto Cape Sable a cape in the extreme southwestern part of Florida. Also leading from Flamingo is the 99 mile Wilderness Waterway, a canoe trip from Flamingo in the south to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center in the north. The Gulf Coast Visitor Center serves as a visitor center for both the northwestern part of the everglades and the neighbooring Big Cypress National Preserve.

In the northern section of the park, the most prominent area is the Shark Valley Visitor Center. A tram road which starts and ends at this center extends about seven miles from the northeastern border of the park into the Shark River Slough, an extensive freshwater slough that flows from Lake Okeechobee (north of the park) to the southwestern coast of Florida. The Shark River Slough is dotted with hundreds of small, jungle-like hardwood hammocks, which are home to many of the Everglades mammals and raptors. The general Shark Valley area is perhaps what most visitors think of when they think of the everglades, as it is surrounded by a seemingly eternity of sawgrass in all directions. Alligators and wading birds often come within feet of visitors, and occasionally, a lazy alligator will block the road. At the point in the Shark Valley tram road where it turns back north there is the Shark Valley Observation Tower, a sixty five foot tower that overlooks the sawgrass prairie to the south.

History

Exploration

For much of its history, systematic exploration of the Everglades was prevented by the dense growth of saw-grass (Cladium jamaicense), a sedge with very sharp saw-toothed leaves. The first Europrean to enter the region was Escalente de Fontenada, a Spanish captive of an Indian chief, who named a lake, Laguno del Espiritu Santo, and some islands, Cayos del Espiritu Santo. Between 1841 and 1856 various United States military forces penetrated the Everglades for the purpose of attacking and driving out the Seminoles, who took refuge here. The most important explorations during the later years of the 19th century were those of Major Archie P. Williams in 1883, James E. Ingraham in 1892, and Hugh L. Willoughby in 1897. The Seminole Indians were then practically the only inhabitants.

In 1850 under the Arkansas Bill, or Swamp and Overflow Act, practically all of the Everglades, which the state had been urging the federal government to drain and reclaim, were turned over to the state for that purpose, with the provision that all proceeds from such lands be applied to their reclamation. A board of trustees for the Internal Improvement Fund, created in 1855 and having as members ex officio the governor, comptroller, treasurer, attorney-general and commissioner-general, sold and allowed to railway companies much of the grant. Between 1881 and 1896 a private company owning 4,000,000 acres (16,000kmē) of the Everglades attempted to dig a canal from Lake Okeechobee through Lake Hicpochee and along the Caloosahatchee River to the Gulf of Mexico; the canal was closed in 1902 by overflows. Six canals were begun under state control in 1905 from the lake to the Atlantic, the northernmost at Jensen, the southernmost at Ft. Lauderdale; the total cost, estimated at $1,035,000 for the reclamation of 12,500 m², was raised by a drainage tax, not to exceed ten cents per acre ($24.71/kmē), levied by the trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund and Board of Drainage commissioners.

The small area reclaimed prior to that year (1905) was found very fertile and particularly adapted to raising sugar cane, oranges and garden vegetables.

Encroachment

The publication in 1947 of Marjory Stoneman Douglas' Everglades: River of Grass was as electrifying an event among naturalists as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. It drew attention to the vast area that makes South Florida habitable but was being treated by agricultural interests and housing developers as a worthless swamp that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would profitably be able to drain. It galvanized President Harry S. Truman's executive order later that year to protect more than 2 million acres (8,000kmē) as Everglades National Park.

The strength of Mrs. Douglas' name was such that when legislation designed by lawyers representing the sugar growers' industry proposed to suspend all water quality standards in the Everglades for twelve years, it was named the "Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act" — until the 103-year old author demanded that her name be removed from the pending bill. It still passed in 1994, renamed the "Everglades Forever Act", and was amended in 2000.

The Florida courts had imposed a plan to reduce damaging phosphate levels in the park's waters to below 10 parts per billion by 2006. The phosphate derives from fertilizer used by sugarcane growers. Florida Governor Jeb Bush has now put the date back to 2016. Judge William Hoeveler, who was overseeing the cleanup, has been removed following legal action by US Sugar Corporation of Clewiston, Florida.

Non-native species

The Everglades also face an ongoing threat from the melaleuca tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia). Sprinkled from airplanes using salt and pepper shakers, the tiny seeds of the thirsty tree were intended to suck up the water and make the "land" of the Everglades suitable for development. The tree remains a useless invasive species. The oils in the trees are also highly flammable, leading to increased danger from wildfires.

Brazilian Pepper has also wreaked havoc on the Everglades, exhibiting a tendency to spread rapidly and crowd out native species. It is especially difficult to eradicate and is readily propagated by birds who eat its small red berries.

External links

References

  • Douglas, Marjory S. 1947. Everglades: River of Grass. (A revised edition was published in 1988 by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Fl.)
  • Lodge, Thomas E. 1994. The Everglades Handbook. Understanding the Ecosystem. St. Lucie Press, DelRay Beach, Fl. 228 p. ISBN 18840150609
  • de:Everglades-Nationalpark

fr:Everglades

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