Everglades National Park: A Precious Paradise at Risk

Each of us has places where we want to return over and over again. For me, one of those places is Everglades National Park in Florida. Howe...

Each of us has places where we want to return over and over again. For me, one of those places is Everglades National Park in Florida. However, I'm not exactly sure whether our children and their children would be able to experience it the way we do it today since this park's future is in question. So is a large part of Southern Florida.

In April 2015, it was my second time visiting Everglades National Park. The first time I visited it was in March 2013. Though I have not noticed any major changes in the park's flora, this time there were much fewer wild animals such as alligators and big birds. There is nothing unusual in this as the end of April also marks the end of a dry season. The water level reaches its yearly minimum, so fish and other animals that depend on it move further south toward the Florida Gulf where the water level is still high. 
Despite the fact that Everglades National Park looks like a big swamp, it is, in fact, a river 70 miles (110 km) wide. It slowly flows north to south from Kissimmee River toward the Gulf of Mexico with a constant speed of 90 ft (30 m) per day.
This land has not always been a national park. Since the end of the 19th century and till 1947, it suffered a lot from excessive human activities and over-development. The water was drained, and the land was on sale for exorbitant 30 dollars per acre (70-80 dollars per hectare). Cunning sellers would bring potential buyers at the end of spring when the water is low and the weather is nice and calm. However, starting in July the rainy season would often bring floods and hurricanes. Even drainage canals would not help protect people from natural disasters. In the year 1928 alone, the Okeechobee Hurricane killed 2,500 people in Florida. 
However, the battle between humans and nature continued, and in the 1930s a huge dam was built around Lake Okeechobee where the Everglades River takes its water resources. As a result of building the dam, a severe drought hit Southern Florida in 1939 which caused numerous wildfires. In this picture - a lock on one of the canals.
Trees were cut, and wildlife killed, however, drainage canals that diverted the Everglades River's water for agriculture and other domestic needs had the biggest negative impact on Southern Florida's ecosystem. Competition for potable water becomes a challenge as the population in Florida continues to grow and an estimated 40 million tourists visit Florida each year. Some 12 million people (many of them are Canadians) have seasonal homes there and come visit Florida in the winter months when the water level is already low. Since the Everglades and the majority of Southern Florida are only 3-7 ft (1-2 m) above the sea level, when the freshwater levels drop, the salt water penetrates the land from the Atlantic Ocean causing drastic changes to the environment.
Federal and state authorities are taking actions that help mitigate ecological problems in Southern Florida such as expanding the park and reserve boundaries, destroying drainage canals, and building water treatment reservoirs. While it may effective to accomplish local short-term goals, in the long run, it cannot protect from negative outcomes of a much bigger problem - ocean level rise - which can eventually submerge the whole Everglades region.
But let's go back to what the Everglades National Park is today. In the picture below, there is a pine oasis, a rare ecosystem within the park accessible from the Pinelands trail. Pines grow at higher elevations where there is not much water year-round, so a piece of land like this will be submerged by the rising ocean when everything else in the park is already underwater. 
Tree shadows save you from the brutal midday heat.
A small lizard is a little curious and does not seem to be afraid of humans. 
I found about 20 snails with beautiful shells along the trail. 
These bright-coloured grasshoppers are so numerous in the park, that I often had to turn my steering wheel to avoid squashing them on the road.
Another trail I visited while the sun was still high up in the sky was the Mahogany Hammock Trail. 
It looks like an island within the vast grassland. 
I was very surprised to see a place with such lush vegetation in the middle of the boundless swampy river. 
It felt so good to hide from the heat under the big branches of palm trees and redwood.
This island is like an oasis in a desert where life abounds.
On such a hot day, all I really wanted was to cool off in the ocean. We drove all the way down to the Flamingo campground at the Florida Bay where there is a beach. It turned out that there was no good access to the ocean, so in order to get to the water you would need to wade through a dense layer of seaweed and debris about 6-8 ft (2-2.5 m) wide. Also, two campers warned us that there are some crocodiles in the mangrove wetlands (pictured below), and unlike their close relatives - alligators, these guys don't mind having you for lunch. 
A bald eagle's nest at the Flamingo campground.
This is what Everglades National Park mostly looks like - an immense wet grassland.
If you only have a couple of hours in the park, Anhinga Trail is where you want to spend your time.
A beautiful anhinga bird whom the trail was named for.
Spanish moss.
Why Anhinga Trail? Because this is where you're almost guaranteed to see alligators in the wild.
In March there is much more wildlife here than now in April. Compare this picture below with the next two taken in March 2013.
Taken in March 2013 when the water level was still high, so fish were abundant.
I love this place!
Baby gator.
You better not swim here.
Dazzling sunset over Everglades National Park.
More posts from Florida are coming soon. Stay tuned!

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