If you ever get the opportunity, I strongly encourage you to visit the extraordinary Florida Everglades.
Last week, while in the area for the annual South Beach Wine and Food Festival, I took an aerial tour of the Everglades as well as an airboat ride through the region - it was a most interesting and informative visit. The Everglades, or Pa-hay-okee, is often described as a swamp or forested wet-land, but it is actually a slow-moving river surrounded by sawgrass marshes, estuarine mangrove forests, tropical hardwood hammocks, and many wildlife habitats. In fact, the Everglades is the only place in the world where the American Alligator and the American Crocodile co-exist in the wild.
The Everglades has existed for thousands of years - not only as home to scores of animals and other natural organisms, but also to the main water supply for eight-million people in south Florida. Over the last century, the Everglades landscape has changed dramatically. Urban development and drainage projects reduced the Everglades to nearly half its original size - this has greatly affected critical habitats, polluted waters and brought invasive species to the area. The Everglades Foundation is dedicated to protecting, restoring and preserving the Everglades, so it can continue to provide economic, recreational and life-sustaining benefits to its animals and to nearby Florida residents. To find out more about the amazing Everglades, and how you can help, go to the Everglades Foundation web site by clicking on this highlighted link. Enjoy these photos.
Before takeoff, I posed for this quick photo with members of the Everglades Foundation – Board member, Gary Lickle, director of development, Deborah Johnson, and Steve Davis, Ph.D., head of Wetlands Ecology. http://www.evergladesfoundation.org
We departed from the Opa Locka Airport, and took an hour-long aerial tour of the Everglades. I learned a great amount about its ecosystem, its habitats, its current condition and the various restoration projects that are underway to preserve and maintain this amazing area.
As we flew towards the Everglades, we passed this area to the west – the Miami Lakes Community, home to about 30-thousand residents and a thousand businesses.
Adjacent to the Everglades is the Lake Belt area – 89 square-miles located in northwest Miami-Dade County, west of the Florida Turnpike. The Lake Belt provides half of the limestone mining resources used in the state every year.
Limestone is a sedimentary white rock, composed mainly of skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral, forams and molluscs. Limestone is used as a building material, as aggregate for the base of roads, as white pigment or filler in paints, as a chemical feedstock for the production of lime, as a soil conditioner, or as a popular decorative addition to rock gardens.
The square mining lake in the forefront is more shallow than the one behind it. Here you can see the light reflecting off the white limestone, making the water appear almost turquoise in color.
In the center, piles of limestone sit after being dredged up from the lake. The Everglades can be seen in the distance.
As we were flying over, I caught this crane mining for limestone. The crane sweeps under the lake for limestone rock and then it is carried to another area where it is made into usable products.
Here are some piles of the limestone in the process area. Some limestone is put through a grinder and some is left in larger rock sizes.
Here is the light reflecting off the white rock in a shallow limestone lake. The strip of marsh in the center has been maintained. Look closely on the horizon – on the right is downtown Miami, and on the left, downtown Ft. Lauderdale.
The water is such an eye-catching color.
As we approached the area above the Everglades, we saw different habitats – here is a great view of some marshy wetlands. The darker areas show tree islands or tropical hardwood hammocks, the dry, mounds that rise out of the Everglades of Florida.
We flew over the Tamiami Trail, a popular way to cross the bottom of the Peninsula toward the Everglades. The Tamiami Trail Bridge is an important Everglades Restoration project that helps restore flow to the River of Grass.
The structure in the center, along this canal, allows water to flow from one side to the other as part of the water management and restoration projects in the Everglades. The Everglades were dubbed the “River of Grass” by writer and environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas in 1947 to describe the slow movement of shallow sheetflow through sawgrass marshes across south Florida.
Here is a small village occupied by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians. In their own language, the Tribe uses the word “Kahayatle” to refer to the shimmering waters of the Everglades.
I captured this nice shot of the different habitats. On the left is marshland, while on the right is a forest of trees including oaks, maples, red bay trees, and of course, a variety of tropical species.
Here is another Miccosukee village. The Tribe has four distinct Reservation Areas in the State of Florida, including Tamiami Trail, Alligator Alley and two on U.S. Route 41.
This larger Tribe community contains more public buildings, schools, government agencies, etc.
Here is a closer look at the community.
Here is another view of the tree islands. In the Everglades, these tree islands range from a cluster of bushes to large habitats.
Here, you can see relics of past activity. The line of trees in the center was the site of a small canal dug nearly a century ago when they tried to drain the Everglades for agricultural purposes.
This view shows airboat trails bisecting the marsh areas. The tree islands show some whiter sections – these contain bald cypress trees. I have a stand of bald cypress trees that line a section of carriage road across from my clematis pergola.
Most of the Everglades is only ankle deep, but in some areas, it could be about three or four feet deep. All sorts of wildlife from microscopic organisms to giant alligators live in the Everglades.
Here is a small agriculture zone, also inhabited by Miccosukee Indians, who grow coconuts, oranges and sugar.
Here’s a closer view of the Miccosukee Indian dwellings.
The deepest marsh habitats within the Everglades are called freshwater sloughs. Sloughs are the main paths of moving water – an ideal habitat for aquatic plants. Tree islands consisting of hardwoods and cypress are common in areas with sloughs. Slough waters also support many fish and aquatic invertebrates.
The marsh grasses support many frogs and smaller wildlife. As for the water, all of south Florida gets water from the Aquifer of the Everglades.
This is Highway 27 – it goes all the way to downtown Miami. On the right, the Medley industrial community, and on left is Hialeah.
Back on the ground, we met with Alex Tiigertail, our airboat captain.
This is a thatched roof shelter at the dock before we departed on the airboat. It is modeled after the native Indian chickee huts.
This map represents islands where Miccosukee families live or have camps. There are also other islands on the map that indicate no inhabitants – those marked with open teardrop circles.
The airboat is getting ready to go down the canal, to the marsh areas.
Here we saw a lot of sawgrass. Sawgrass is a tall plant with tiny ridges, or teeth, along the length of its sides. The Sawgrass Prairie is also known as the sawgrass marsh, which stays wet most of the year. It’s only when the Everglades enters its dry season that we start to see water levels drop and the ground becomes visible.
Here, you can see the dark green humps of the tree islands.
In this water, you can see some fuzzy plants, or bladderwort. Bladderwort is a carnivorous plant, typically sporting a flower, and hundreds of tiny little bladders. These bladders help with floating and feeding as they are used to capture unsuspecting aquatic insects. Small fish and insects thrive here.
Here are some more deeper Everglades waters.
Here, more sawgrass, and some water lilies.
In this image, the leaves in the water are from spatterdock, a useful rooted, floating-leaved plant with bright yellow flowers closely related to water lilies.
These water lilies are just off the boardwalk island, where we ate lunch.
This alligator was on the island where we ate – perhaps he is waiting for leftovers.
We enjoyed a lovely meal – several salads, sandwiches and hibiscus raspberry tea.
We had a green salad, a potato salad and a fruit salad. The floral centerpiece includes white swamp lilies, yellow spatterdock, and lavender pickerel weed.
Here I am joined by Alex Tigertail, our guide.
We looked back at the huts one more time as we left on our airboat.
Here is a bird taking flight. Wading birds are common in the Everglades – egrets, herons, and roseate spoonbills.
We did not pass this area during our trip, but it is a protected area south of Lake Ockachobee in the Everglades, where these alligators are thriving. The below video shows some of these great and powerful animals. The photo and video were taken by Gary Lickle.