“There are no other Everglades in the World. They are, they have always been, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them: their vast glittering openness, wider than the enormous visible round of the horizon, the racing free saltness and sweetness of their massive winds, under the dazzling blue height of space. They are unique also in the simplicity, the diversity, the related harmony of the forms of life they enclose…It is a river of grass.”
Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Conservationist
It’s telling that the first piece of information that you turn to when you open the Everglades National Park brochure is titled “Saving the Glades”. There are many sources of additional information about the history of and threats to the park, but I’ll include some excerpts from their published literature in this post to give a sense of the extent of the work that is needed and in process and the importance of supporting efforts to “Save the Glades”.
“The park was created in 1947 to save part of the Glades, but its future depends on a healthier, more naturally functioning ecosystem in the entire region, where burgeoning human population thirsts for the same water that wood storks, currently an endangered species, need to survive. We must create a balance among the competing demands of urban, industrial and agricultural development, with a restored Everglades as its centerpiece.
Everglades alone of U.S. national parks holds three world designations; International Biosphere Reserve, World Heritage Site, and Wetland of International Importance. After years of drainage and alterations, efforts to save the remaining Everglades and to restore a semblance of their original function are underway. In 1989 Congress extended the eastern park boundary to protect the eastern Shark River Slough, which is historically important to sustain the Park’s biological abundance and diversity. Then, in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Congress authorized the world’s largest environmental restoration project. Requiring 30 years to accomplish, the plan seeks to return water to more natural patterns of quantity, timing and distribution throughout the South Florida ecosystem.”
- Pinelands – occur on the highest elevations in the park, along a limestone ridge that runs along the east coast of Florida. Pines root in very little soil in rock cracks. There used to be over 200,000 acres of pines along the ridge; now only 11,000 acres are preserved in the park, it is the last remaining large stand of the once extensive Dade County slash pine forest of southeastern Florida.
- Hardwood Hammocks – are elevations of drier land on which hardwood trees and other vegetation grow profusely. They generally form as teardrop-shaped islands in the “river of grass” or among the pinelands.
- Sawgrass Marsh – a wide, shallow, slow-moving “river of grass”, the predominate ecosystem of the park. Within this river, the two major drainage systems are a wide flow called Shark Valley Slough, and a smaller one called Taylor Slough. A slough (pronounced “slew”) is the name given to the deeper areas at the center of freshwater flow.
- Cypress – Bald cypress trees grow in standing water and are usually found wherever there’s a dip in elevation. Dwarf cypress trees grow in the open sawgrass and, despite their small size, can be quite old. Circular-shaped groupings of cypress, called cypress domes, form in low areas in the limestone bedrock. The tallest trees are found in the deep water at the center creating a dome shape.
- Mangrove Forest/Estuaries – Mangroves take root in brackish zones where fresh water and salt water intermingle. Everglades National Park is home to the largest continuous mangrove forest in the United States. Mangrove islands, known as keys, provide important nesting sites for colonies of wading birds. Salt Marsh Mosquitoes supply wintering and migrating birds with an abundant food source. The dense mangroves also provide a summer breeding ground for many birds.
- Florida Bay – is the largest body of water in the Everglades, filling a triangle between the southern shore of the mainland and the upper keys.