The Everglades have 8 ecosystems: marine, mangroves, coastal prairie, freshwater marl prairies, freshwater slough, cypress, hardwood hammocks, and pinelands. We began our Everglades visit with a boat tour of the 10,000 islands (marine ecosystem). Although we never found the elusive manatee, we saw dolphin, osprey, brown pelicans, and anhinga. We also got a nice view from the water of mangroves. Next, we stopped at a viewing area and observed the abundant wildlife along the canals that were constructed during the late 1940s by the Army Corps of Engineers. While the project has provided fish and wildlife habitat, the alteration of the wetlands (along with population growth and encroachment) has degraded the ecosystem. In fact, the number of wading birds such as egrets, herons, and ibises has been reduced by 90%. After observing and photographing alligators, fish, turtles, grasshoppers, egrets, hawks, great blue heron, and ibises, we drove to another roadside observation point and enjoyed a walk through a cypress forest where we observed a doe eating in the shadows. We also observed many tracks in the prairie grasses and on the forest floor. Our next stop was Shark Valley. There we learned about the river of grass, alligators and crocodiles, and pythons and other invasive species. We took a two hour tour of the freshwater prairie and observed alligators, soft-shelled turtles, hawks, anhinga, a green heron, a night heron, a great blue heron, and deer. We learned a lot of interesting facts about the Everglades.
Did you know that limestone is the porous sedimentary rock that is everywhere in the Everglades? The rocks are full of calcium and the limestone aquifer under the Everglades provides water for all of south Florida. Did you know that there are 27 species of snakes in the Everglades, including at least 250 invasive pythons? Did you know that the Everglades is the only place that you can find both the crocodile and the alligator? Did you know that the mouth of a crocodile is shaped like an A and the mouth of an alligator is shaped like a C? Did you know that alligators are the keepers of the Everglades? During the dry season, alligators dig out holes in the limestone. This provides home for the alligator and lots of other wildlife, including plants. The hole serves as a water hole and consequently lots of plants and wildlife can be found near these alligator holes. Did you know that the Everglades has the largest stand of sawgrass prairie in North America? Did you know that the Everglades National Park is home to 3 types of sea turtles?
After visiting Shark Valley, we made our way back home and discussed the problems of water conservation and species protection. We'll share thoughts on this another time.
We made other visits to the Everglades, walking on a path through the cypress forest where we observed otter playing in the muck and eagles nesting in a nest that was at least 8 feet across. We visited the Audubon Swamp Sanctuary and saw endangered wood storks, a roseate spoonbill, and a green heron. It was a fun learning experience.