The Everglades is a unique treasure found in South Florida. The Everglades is the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the United States. It consists of 1.5 million acres of saw grass marshes, mangrove forests, and hardwood hammocks dominated by wetlands. It is home to endangered, rare, and exotic wildlife.
Origins of the Everglades
Water in South Florida once flowed from the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee. Then it flowed southward over low-lying lands to Biscayne Bay, the Ten Thousand Islands, and Florida Bay. This shallow, slow-moving sheet of water created a mosaic of ponds, marshes, and forests. Over thousands of years this developed into a balanced ecosystem.
Wading birds such as great egrets, white ibis, herons, and wood storks were abundant. The Cape Sable seaside sparrow, Miami blackheaded snake, manatee, and Florida panther made the Everglades their home. Alligators and crocodiles existed side by side.
The Seminole and Miccosukee Indians settled in the Everglades. Although they battled with the alligators and crocodiles who live in the ‘Glades, they did not interfere with the overall balance of the ecosystem.
Early settlers and land developers considered the Everglades to be a worthless swamp. By the 1800s, developers started digging canals to drain the wetlands. Between 1905 and 1910, large tracts of land were converted to agriculture. This “new” land stimulated the first of South Florida’s land booms. Henry Flagler constructed the first railroad down the Florida peninsula opening up this area to people.
By the 1920s, visitors and new residents flocked to towns like Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Fort Myers. As they arrived, more canals were dug. Canals, roads, and buildings took the place of native habitats.
In 1948, Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a system of roads, canals, levees, and water-control structures stretching throughout South Florida. This was intended to provide water and flood protection and to help preserve the Everglades. However, the alteration of the wetlands—combined with increasing population—damaged the natural system.
In the 1960s, the federal government considered building an international airport in the Everglades area. Florida environmentalists objected. Marjory Stoneman Douglas organized the Friends of the Everglades. The airport was not built and a strong crusade to “Save the Everglades” was begun.
|The Everglades Today Today, 50% of South Florida’s original wetland areas no longer exist. The numbers of wading birds have been reduced by 90%. Entire populations of animals are in danger of disappearing. Exotic pest plants have invaded natural areas. Losses of seagrass beds in Florida Bay have been followed by losses of wildlife.In Mrs. Douglas’s classic book, The Everglades: River of Grass, she wrote, “Unless the people act . . . overdraining will go on. The soil will shrink and burn and be wasted and destroyed, in a continuing ruin.”However, she continues, in a hopeful vein, “There is a balance in man also, one which has set against his greed . . . Perhaps even in this last hour, in a new relation of usefulness and beauty, the vast, magnificent, subtle and unique region of the Everglades may not be utterly lost.”The best way to see the Everglades is by picking up a paddle. In wintertime, when the temperatures and swarms of mosquitoes have decreased, Everglades National Park draws large numbers of visitors. They include kayak and canoe campers, along with birders, hikers, and fishermen. They include those with a desire to see this unique treasure.