We hear about the Everglades often. It’s in movies, it’s in books, there are poems about it, and it’s often cited in conservation and environmental conversations.
We all know where these wetlands are and that they’re special, but why are they special? The Everglades are a crucial indicator of environmental health and are home to over 800 wildlife species, as well as an abundance of flora and foliage.
Here are just a few reasons why the Everglades are so special and unique!
Why are the Everglades so special?
It has 8 different habitats
Although the Everglades are usually referred to as just simply “the Everglades,” the 1.5 million acres of sprawling wetland actually consist of eight different and distinct habitats! From coastal wetlands to dry pine forests and everything in between, each of the habitats has its own flora, fauna, insects and characteristics, meaning that the Everglades as a whole is home to a massive range of wildlife and foliage.
There is the hardwood hammock habitat, which is characterized by a dense stand of trees growing on a small rise in the wetland area.
The pinelands are distinct forests of slash pine and shrubbery that depend on regular wildfires to rejuvenate the delicate ecosystem.
Mangrove forests, of course, grow along coastal channels and provide a habitat for both land and water animals, as well as providing a natural defense against wind and storm erosion.
Coastal lowlands are one of the more unique habitats, located between dry land and the muddier areas of the coast; they are characteristically drier and have a wide range of salt-tolerant flora and fauna living among the shrubs and grasses.
Freshwater sloughs are the muddy, marshy rivers that transport water through the wetlands.
Freshwater marl prairies are slightly larger versions of sloughs in the sense that they are covered by shallow water and home to plenty of low-growing vegetation. These prairies, however, are much larger and look like, well, a prairie of water!
Cypress trees are some of the few deciduous conifers that can be found growing and thriving in standing water. In the Everglades, cypress trees are usually found in low water marshes.
Florida Bay is where one can find the Everglades’ marine & estuarine habitats. As the description suggests, the marine habitat is the saltwater home of the many fish, vegetation, corals and birdlife that share the watery home. The estuarine habitat, which borders the marine one, is home to the mollusks, seaweed, fish and birds that thrive in the brackish waters.
It’s a haven for birds & animals
Because of its many ecosystems and habitats, over 800 species of animals and birds call the Everglades their home.
In fact, the Everglades is often unofficially associated with birds, their conservation and research on them. There are over 360 species of birds found in the Everglades. Species range from large wading birds to small land birds to massive birds of prey, as well as the many migratory birds who come to the Everglades to roost over the winter.
In addition to keeping your eyes peeled for the many birds of the Everglades, make sure to keep watch for the 40 different mammal species, too! The forests, ocean, wetlands, coastlines and mangroves often conceal anything from racoons to deer to bobcats and even otters and manatees! The Florida panther is one of the more elusive species in the area, but catching a glimpse of the animal is a once-in-a-lifetime treat as there are less than 100 left in the world today. It is just one of the 36 endangered and threatened species in the Everglades.
Reptiles are abundant, too, as well as many of Florida’s amphibious frogs. The Everglades are also one of the only places in the world where both the crocodile and the alligator share a habitat, but maybe just take our word for it and don't get too close to see them yourself!
It’s in danger
The beauty of the Everglades and its role in supporting wildlife cannot be understated. It serves as an untouched remnant of what South Florida’s landscape once looked like, and the unique ecosystems support wildlife from every part of the food chain and circle of life. However, as with many natural areas, the presence of humans have taken a toll on the environment, upsetting the delicate balance of the sprawling wetlands.
Urban and agricultural development has replaced over half of the Everglades’ original acreage, and pollution and agricultural runoff has seeped into the waters of the Everglades and harmed much of the remaining portion.
Invasive species such as Burmese pythons, wild boar and catfish run rampant in the park without many natural predators to reduce their population growth, and invasive plants displace native species which, in turn, affect the native animals and birds, which survive off those plants.
Because the Everglades’ natural ecosystem is so delicately balanced, any disruptive effects trickle up and down the food chain and can be hugely damaging. One of the ways scientists most effectively monitor the health of the ecosystem is through tracking the many birds who call the Everglades home. If there are fewer nests during nesting season, then scientists can examine the rest of the wetlands to find out what’s causing the issue.
How to support the Everglades
If you live in our luxury South Florida apartments, then you’re super close to these unique and special wetlands! The Everglades National Park, which has a wealth of resources on the history and conservation of the wetlands, is just an hour away from Downtown Miami, so it’s easily accessible for anyone interested in visiting the park.
In addition to supporting the park and its conservation efforts, here are some simple ways you can lower your impact on the environment around you!
Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/Free-Photos