Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Driss. Driss Wonders, “everglades” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Driss!
When you think of Florida, what comes to mind? If you've ever enjoyed a vacation in Florida, you might think of things like sunshine, oranges, beautiful beaches, and maybe even theme parks, such as Walt Disney World and Epcot.
If you've ever traveled to the deepest parts of southern Florida, though, different things might come to mind. How about alligators, crocodiles, panthers, swamps, and mangrove forests? What are we talking about? The Everglades, of course!
The Everglades is a massive tropical wetland ecosystem that stretches from central Florida to the southern tip of Florida, including Florida Bay. How big is it? Scientists estimate its size at over two million acres!
Water from the Kissimmee River flows into Lake Okeechobee, which is a huge (730 square miles) but shallow (average depth of only nine feet) lake. In the wet season, Lake Okeechobee overflows, creating a slow-moving river that's over 60 miles wide and 100 miles long.
This river isn't like any river you've ever seen, though. It's not deep and it doesn't flow quickly in a narrow channel. In fact, it's not always easy to see the water and, when you do see it, it might not appear to be moving at all.
The water discharged from Lake Okeechobee flows south across a wide, underground limestone shelf that extends to Florida Bay. Instead of a narrow, deep channel, the limestone shelf is wide and is angled only slightly, dropping about two inches every mile.
Water traveling along the limestone shelf might only move about a half-mile each day. Scientists call this slow movement of the wide, shallow river "sheetflow." It can take water leaving Lake Okeechobee months or even years to reach Florida Bay.
This is because the Everglades experiences both wet seasons and dry seasons. During dry seasons, the limestone shelf absorbs and stores water that will eventually be released again during the next wet season.
The tropical wetland ecosystem created by this slow-moving water features sawgrass marshes, cypress swamps, wet prairies, mangrove forests, hardwood hammocks, pine rocklands, and Florida Bay's marine environment. The abundance of sawgrass marshes, in particular, gives the Everglades its nickname: "River of Grass."
These diverse types of habitats make the Everglades home to a stunning variety of wildlife, including Florida panthers, crocodiles, alligators, snakes, manatees, bottlenose dolphins, and over 350 species of birds, such as wood storks, herons, roseate spoonbills, ibises, and egrets.
Unfortunately, the actions of humans over the past 200 years have taken their toll on the Everglades. Urban and agricultural development has created numerous water diversion and flood control projects that have drained wetlands, converting them into tillable and buildable lands. These actions have dramatically decreased the size of the Everglades and continue to do so even today.
Fortunately, Everglades National Park, established in 1947, preserves many habitats, and conservation efforts exist to try to protect many areas outside the boundaries of the national park. The Everglades is a natural resource with global importance. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and a specially protected area under the Cartagena Treaty.