The Everglades is known around the globe for its marshy landscape, steamy temps, and, of course, it’s alligators! So today, on the 4th of July, I wanted to share a few photos from last week’s tour of the “grassy waters” near Fort Lauderdale, made while I was in Florida for the Annual Meeting of GFWC (General Federation of Women’s Clubs). The airboat adventure was taken at Sawgrass Recreation Park, which also features a wildlife exhibit of Florida panthers, bobcats, reptiles, and other indigenous wildlife.
Our girl guide was both knowledgeable and engaging, providing information on every topic pertinent to the wetlands, from geology to ecology. After leaving the dock, it took only a few minutes for her to spy our first gator from her lofty perch. After cutting the motor so the boat would drift quietly toward the reptile, the alligator swam over to the boat for a closer look.
Throughout the Everglades, topography is flat and low, with most areas only 1 or 2 feet above sea level. The region has a wet season in summer and a dry season in winter, so it is shaped by both wind and fire. On our visit, we found the wetlands flooded, with water about 2-feet higher than normal. Though it is home to various ecosystems, the primary feature is the sawgrass prairie. The grass, actually a sedge with sharp teeth along its edge, can grow up to 10-feet tall. Just above the dark, murky water, we discovered clusters of snail eggs attached to the sawgrass.
Before it was protected, roughly half of the Everglades was drained for agricultural and urban development. Fertilizers used to grow sugarcane and vegetables seep into the sawgrass marshes, changing the quality of the water so that cattails and other water plants replace natural vegetation. The release of exotic animals and reptiles, such the walking catfish from Asia and the Burmese python, are anther major concern. Recently, Florida Fish and Wildlife officials killed a 16-foot long monster snake with a full-grown deer in its stomach. These foreign plants and animals create serious problems, choking out native species and disrupting food chains.
Despite the brevity of my visit, there was much to see and enjoy. And I won’t forget the sight of the last, mammoth gator gliding silently through the water.
The Everglades has been designated as a wetland area of global importance by UNESCO.