The Everglades

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Everglades

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park protects an unparalleled landscape of over 1.5 million acres (more than 2,000 square miles) of tropical and subtropical habitat with one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. 

An international treasure, the Everglades  is acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and a specially protected area under the Cartagena Treaty.

The Everglades
Artwork by Dana Levy

Human Influence

Still, human influence is increasingly felt throughout the Everglades in the form of climate change, invasive plant and animal species encroachment and water diversion. Water in South Florida once flowed freely from the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee and southward over low-lying lands to the estuaries of Biscayne Bay, the Ten Thousand Islands, and Florida Bay. This shallow, slow-moving sheet of water covered almost 11,000 square miles, creating a mosaic of ponds, sloughs, sawgrass marshes, hardwood hammock, and forested uplands. For thousands of years this intricate system evolved into a finely balanced ecosystem that formed the biological infrastructure for the southern half of the state. However, early colonial settlers and land developers of the Everglades viewed it as potential farmland, commerce and housing communities. By the early 1900s’, the drainage process to transform wetland into commercial land for development was underway. The results would severely damage the Everglades ecosystem and the species it supported.

"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 the 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."

President Harry S. Truman, address at the Dedication of Everglades National Park, December 6, 1947

The Park's Establishment

In 1934, the U.S. Congress authorized the creation of Everglades National Park to preserve its subtropical ecosystem and everything that lives within it. The park’s establishment marked the first time federal land was set aside for its abundance of diverse plant and animal species rather than for its scenic views.

With the support of many early conservationists, scientists, and other advocates, Everglades National Park officially opened in 1947 to conserve the natural landscape and prevent further degradation of its land, plants, and animals. The allure of the Everglades stems from its unique ecosystem, with its endless sawgrass prairies, dense mangroves, pine rockland forests, hardwood hammocks and sandy coastline.

Although Everglades National Park represents only the southernmost fifth of the historic Everglades, it remains one of the largest parks in the country. An impressive collection of nationally and internationally significant resources is protected within its boundaries, including the largest stand of sawgrass prairie in North America, the largest protected mangrove forest in the northern hemisphere, the vast estuary of Florida Bay, and cultural resources chronicling approximately 10,000 years of human history. Everglades National Park is the only subtropical wilderness area in North America; and by federal law, people must make no impact on the land and ecosystem.

Archeological History

Various communities wrestled with the watery landscape to make it their home through the Everglades’ 10,000 year settlement. Recent surveys in the Everglades and within the Big Cypress Swamp indicate the presence of at least several hundred archeological sites within the interior of south Florida. (source)

Groups led by Abiaka or Sam Jones, Chipco, Chitto-Tustenuggee and Chakaika settled in the remote areas and swamps of South Florida. The descendents of these groups are now members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. The Miccosukees and Seminoles belonged to the Creek Confederacy and have a shared Native American heritage. Visitors can learn more about these cultures at the Miccosukee Indian Village and Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museums.

There is still a significant number of people in Florida’s Native American tribes. Today, almost 3,000 people live on Seminole and Miccosukee reservations. The 2000 census records show that over 53,000 people in Florida claim Native American descent, and 39 different tribes from across North America are represented in Florida’s population. (source)

Everglades Quick Facts

  • Largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie in North America
  • Predominant water recharge area for all of South Florida, through the Biscayne aquifer
  • Home of 13 endangered and 10 threatened species
  • Largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere
  • Largest designated wilderness in the Eastern US
  • Most significant breeding grounds for tropical wading birds in North America
  • Only subtropical preserve on the North American continent
  • Major "edge" area of the northern and southern limits for many species creating a unique mingling of diverse temperate and subtropical species