Today, we’re going to explore one of the most fascinating and unique places in the world: The Everglades. This national park in South Florida is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species that are found nowhere else on earth. Here are seven fascinating facts about the Everglades that you probably didn’t know.
1: Everglades National Park: It’s BIG
The Everglades is the largest wetland ecosystem in the United States. It covers over 1.5 million acres. Everglades National Park protects more than 350 species of birds, 120 species of trees, and thousands of other plants and animals. Everglades National Park is so big that it actually touches a few different counties!
The Florida Everglades ecosystem is bigger than just the Everglades National Park, though. The Florida Everglades ecosystem also includes:
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Big Cypress Wildlife Management Area
- Francis S Taylor Wildlife Management Area
- Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge
- Picayune Strand State Forest
- Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
- Collier-Seminole State Park
In fact, the Florida Everglades system takes up most of South Florida. It spans from Lake Okeechobee down to the very tip of the peninsula in Florida Bay.
2: The Everglades Start in Lake Okeechobee
The greater Everglades system actually starts in Lake Okeechobee. From there, it moves into mangrove forests and cypress swamps. These places house wading birds and big gators. Lake Okeechobee is the gateway to the wildlife of Southern Florida.
3: The Everglades National Park Isn’t Just a Swamp!
The Everglades is not just a swamp in South Florida. The Florida Everglades are a slow-moving river. It starts near Orlando (Lake Okeechobee) and flows South into Florida Bay. It moves so slowly that it appears to be still. But it is, in fact, a moving river.
The water in the Everglades is so shallow that most of it is less than a few feet deep. Much of it can be waded by fisherman and wildlife. But the local alligators make this a risky move. In any case, this slow-moving giant river is the biggest reason why the Everglades is such a unique ecosystem.
4: The Everglades National Park is Home to Many Endangered Species
The Everglades National Park is the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the United States. It and its surrounding natural areas are home to many endangered species. It’s even been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That gives it international importance.
It Has Alligators AND Crocodiles
Do you know the difference between alligators and crocodiles? Alligators prefer freshwater (lakes, rivers), while crocodiles prefer saltwater (oceans, estuaries). Alligators have a U shaped snout, and you can only see their upper teeth when their mouths are closed. Crocodiles have a V shaped snout, and you can see all their teeth with their mouths closed.
The Everglades is home to the American crocodile. This species of crocodile is found nowhere else in the United States. So it’s endangered. There are only about 2,000 American crocodiles left in the world. About half of them live in the Everglades.
The Everglades National Park is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles live in the same habitat. This is because the Florida Everglades contains both saltwater habitats and freshwater marshes. When saltwater habitats and freshwater marshes mix, they form something called an estuary. Lots of different animal and plant species can live in estuaries.
The Elusive Florida Panther Can be Found Here
The Everglades is also home to the Florida panther. This big cat was one of the first listed under the US Endangered Species Act. Recovery efforts are ongoing. Scientists believed there were only a dozen adults at the low point of the Florida panther population. Now, they’re on the road to recovery.
Both state and national parks in Florida are a great place to try spotting the elusive Florida panther in the wild. The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park has two resident Florida panthers that you can visit anytime.
Unique Birds Like the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow Can be Found Here
Other rare species (besides the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow) include:
- snail kite
- wood stork
- roseate spoonbill
This ecosystem also includes many other tropical wading birds. Many wading birds rely on the shallow, slow-moving river for their food. The Everglades are also significant breeding grounds for many different species.
Birdwatchers love the Everglades. Native species and other wildlife draw large numbers of spectators each year. These tourists hope to spot a rare or endangered animal on their adventures. The Everglades landscape is a great place for birdwatchers. But it’s also great for hikers, kayakers, and boaters, too!
Invasive Species Are a Huge Problem
Unfortunately, invasive species threaten the integrity of the Everglades. Invasive species are animals, plants, or other creatures that evolved in a different place. Many invasive species come to the US from Asia and Europe.
Invasive species like Burmese pythons can kill many threatened and endangered animals in the Southern Florida wilderness. These and other invasive species are huge threats to the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere.
5: The Florida Everglades Clean The Water
The Everglades are actually a giant filter that cleans water. The slow-moving river allows water to seep down through the soil. There the river of grass and other organisms filter out pollutants. This purified water then emerges on the other side of the Everglades. Then it flows into the ocean.
Types of Wetlands in the Everglades
Wetlands improve water quality everywhere they exist. They also house many native species. This is why people are working all across the US to protect water and wetlands from corporate interests. The Florida Everglades includes these wetland systems:
- sawgrass marshes
- hardwood hammocks
- coastal mangroves
- bottomland hardwoods
- mangrove swamps
What is the Value of Wetlands?
When wetlands clean our water, we call it an “ecosystem service“. That’s something that a natural habitat does for us. We can estimate how much these services are worth by calculating how much it costs us to do the same thing without nature involved. One study found that restoring some habitat in the central Everglades could be worth $1.8 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money for a hardworking swamp!
6: The “River Of Grass” Ecosystem
The Everglades, a renowned natural wonder, is often called “The River of Grass”. This captivating national park is adorned with a distinctive type of grass known as sawgrass. Sawgrass can reach heights of over nine feet. This magnificent “river of grass” gives the Everglades its unique appearance. It also plays an irreplaceable role in the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
Sawgrass marshes are not the only types of vegetation in this fresh water ecosystem. The Everglades are also home to bottomland hardwood hammocks, mangrove forests, and more. This makes sense, because the Everglades are the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.
7: A Source of Drinking Water for South Florida
Finally, the Everglades is an essential source of drinking water for millions of people in South Florida. Floridians rely on this complex system for clean drinking water. Threats to drinking water include:
- urban development
- unsustainable agricultural production
- pollution and pesticides from tree plantations
- algae blooms increasing from agricultural runoff
- global climate change
There are other threats to this UNESCO World Heritage Site, too. Much like the rest of the country, threats are ever-evolving. They require careful prevention and management to keep the ecosystem intact.
From the elusive Florida panther down to the very water we drink, the Everglades are an important part of Southern Florida culture and history. We hope you enjoyed learning more about this incredible ecosystem. Maybe it’ll inspire you to visit the park one day.
Special places like the Everglades need to be protected. We work from South Florida to Virginia, the Carolinas, and the Gulf South. We’re working hard to protect forests and communities from industrial logging. Are you ready to make a difference?