Everglades National Park: The Perfect Representation of the Central American Ecosystem

Name: Everglades National Park (United States of America).
Location: 30 miles south of Miami City, state of Florida.
Area: 1,375,855 acres.

The Everglades National Park

"Here are no lofty peaks seeking the sky, no mighty glaciers or rushing streams wearing away the uplifted land. Here is land, tranquil in its quiet beauty, serving not as a source of water, but as the last receiver of it. To its natural abundance we owe the spectacular plant and animal life that distinguishes this place from all others in our country". These words, pronounced by former president Harry Truman on December 6, 1947, served as epilogue of the formal declaration ceremony of the Everglades National Park. Nowadays, these words reflect the current situation of the park.

Limestone Marshlands

Across the entire Quaternary, the lands in Everglades were subjected to successive floods and marine regressions. During the marine periods, sedimentary limestone deposits gradually accumulated, which were later eroded in the drier ages. The sequence of this cycle of sedimentation-erosion has made up the current lands, with the inclusion of zoological elements, this is, limestone depositions of biologic provenances, particularly algae.

The marine sector of the park has suffered a process of similar formation. The zone known for its 100,000 islands, opened to Florida bay, possess a limestone substrate, hard and porous like a sponge. During the summer, when more precipitations take place, is partially covered by the waters, wearing superficial deposits of organic matter. These surfaces are uncovered in winter, resulting in the whitening of the materials and in the erosion of the rocks under the blazing sun of Florida.

Over this particular geological substrate are situated the largest wetlands of sparse weeds on the planet, the heartland of the Everglades National Park, with a length of 93 miles by 43 miles width in rainy seasons. The origin of the waters is from two sources: first, the wetlands receive the abundant precipitations of the area, above the 47 miles annually; and second, the wetlands receive the flow of the waters from the Okeechobee River, the authentic vital source in the park. The wetlands form a soft leaning plane which goes towards the sea and which constitutes the mouth itself of the river.

The Okeechobee River starts in the homonymous lagoon situated 93 miles north from Miami. In the old days, when the precipitations inflated the water volumes of the lagoon, this one released its excessive hydrological masses that were seeking the sea through a superficial fluvial course which covered eight and a half million acres. The governor of Florida, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, came up with an idea in the first decade of the 20th century that had fascinated hundreds of farmers generations: to "encase" the waters in narrow draining canals, drying up the rest of the lands for its posterior exploitation. The project was executed , but pretty soon their consequences became visible: two floods, in the years 1926 and 1928, destroyed lives and croplands. On the other hand, for having tried to prevent the free flow of the freshwater, a series of marine intrusion phenomena started to appear in the Biscayne area, provoking the salinization of the wells in Miami. Water management continues to be a difficult task in these days, relying the Everglades Park of a set of dampers and pumps which allow the regulation of the water volumes that enter the park.

Islands in "Water Meadowlands"

In the "water meadowlands", the wetlands, appear anchored islands of abundant tree vegetation, known as hammocks. Coconut trees, palmettos up to 100 feet high and numerous species of palm trees forming a mixed set that breaks the horizontal monotony of the wetlands. The zoological star of these vegetation stains is a small snail belonging to the genus Liguus, only found in Everglades, Cuba and the Hispaniola. A good amount of hammocks contain its own snails, ornamented and colored in a particular way, having cited 52 different species in Everglades alone. The snails have a specific predator, with sharp nails which holds the snail with one leg waiting impatiently for the snail to come out from its shell. Then, once the snail is out, this predator passes its curved beak through the poor snail and pulls it out of the shell, and finally it throws the shell back into the ground.

The hammocks contain important aviaries, particularly of ardeidos. In fact, the earth-water mosaic that encloses the park is a meeting point for fabulous concentrations of birds, having been counted up to 310 different species. Anhinga, white heron, brown pelican or the swamphen are some of its most important and popular representatives. It should be also highlighted the bald eagle population which make their nests in Everglades, the most populated zone of these birds in North America.

The fallen leaves from the hammocks, added to the rainwater, form an acid mixture which cleans the outer part of the tree islands, establishing a belt devoid of vegetation. These unpopulated zones serve as shelter to the water moccasin, one of the few pit vipers that goes well in the waters. This is not the only venomous snake in the park, where the pygmy viper and the coral snake are well known inhabitants.

The Cypress Swamp

The holes in the limestone mother rock favor the growth of the cypress, which forms two dense formations in the northern sector of the park. The centenarian trees, sprinkled by beard moss, sink their roots in the peat. Colorful orchids, epiphytes, flute-like trunks set the classic image of the Cypress Swamp. Here finds shelter the alligator or American cayman, which differs from the true crocodiles in its wider muzzle and in the relative weakness of its dorsal shields that have a tactile function. This skin, as well as the skin from the abdomen, is very appreciated in leather manufacturers and provoked in the past high mortality rates in this species. The park also encloses a decent population, estimated at 400 individuals, of the American crocodile, an endangered species which has in this park its largest world army.

Everglades contains the last representation of the hedging pine, a formation that in the past ornamented the entire coast in Florida. Situated north from the cays, with an approximate width of 4 miles, comprise an effective separation between the wetlands and the Atlantic Ocean. The forest is composed of rough pines, wrinkled, which have managed to transform the limestone into a fine bad-drained silt that floods very easily. The dominant species is the Pinus elliotti, a slash pine with a characteristic look due to its several levels of rooting and dead leaves. A highly dense understory and different species of the Australian genus of the Casuarinas are the normal companions in the pine wood.

Both the pine wood and the sparsely grass prairie need periodic fires for its adequate preservation. In the first case, the fire eliminates bothering competitors and at the same time it contributes in recycling different nutrients, needed by the pine wood. In the second case, without the periodic fires, the bushes would asphyxiate the herb plants, dropping down the primary production of the ecosystem.

The Florida Bay

Everglades pours its waters into the Florida Bay in two different zones. The central sector of the river drains its waters in the area of the Shark River, through different water branches and canals separated by islets of low altitude. The other zone, the Cypress Swamps, pours its waters in the area of the 100,000 islands. In the areas where the freshwater and saltwater contact each other, are found vast formations of mangroves, which are highly effective against the clashes of the tides which isolate the zone every year.

The mangroves formations have an interesting animal living in them: the manatee, an aquatic mammal that can reach up to 3,500 pounds in weight and 13 feet in length, with a strictly vegetarian diet. Its hind limbs are attached together forming a caudal fin, which makes the manatee stuck in the beach completely defenseless and incapable of reaching the water again. The silhouette and brave customs of the manatee has made him the subject of multiple legends, where sailors tried to give human qualities to this animal -as Simpson says, the Caribbean name of manatee can be translated as "woman breast".

Everglades is an emblematic protected zone as it adds to its exceptional natural values a wide range of problems that are not always easily solvable. The nearby crop lands compete between each other to get the most water out of Everglades, and at the same time they could infest the water flows, adding to them pesticides and other hazardous chemicals for the wildlife. Miami City maintains inseparable links to Everglades, both economic -the tourism of the protected area is an important complement for the tourist industry- and sentimental, because the park is one of the bastions of the city. The park management is tricky, with alternating humid and dry periods in a sequence that must be perfectly calibrated. All things considered, Everglades continues to be one of the best examples of Central American subtropical ecosystem and mandatory point of reference when talking about the history of conservation and preservation of this continent.

For a Bunch of Feathers

Florida Peninsula was one of the first landmarks for Spanish settlement in North America. However, the area of today's Everglades, dominated by wetlands and coastal reefs which made difficult the navigation, was not explored until the end of the 19th century. In fact, the first now American mail post was not established until 1893, where currently is the area of Flamingo visits.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Everglades was a meeting point for the so-called "feather hunters". Its bird richness, particularly herons from different species, appealed to numerous hunters, tempted for the high value of the feather in the hat stores in Miami, La Habana and other American cities. As a response, the Audubon society hired guards to protect certain species that they considered to be endangered. This event didn't scare the poachers and in 1905, Guy Bradley, a guard in the area was shot while doing his job. Just for a bunch of feathers!

Source: National Park Service

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