Where Are the Everglades?
The Everglades are in
Southern Florida in the United States. The peninsula of Florida, low lying and
with a climate ranging from warm temperate to subtropical, stretches out from
the American mainland towards Cuba.
In the south of Florida lies the state’s biggest stretch of inland water, Lake Okeechobee. Spreading south from this is the huge wet prairie called the Everglades which, after 100 miles, gives way to the mangrove forests fringing the peninsula’s broad tip. The Seminole Tribe gave the large body of water the name Okeechobee meaning “River of Grass” to describe the sawgrass marshes, part of a complex system of interdependent ecosystems that include cypress swamps, the estuarine mangrove forests of the Ten Thousand Islands, tropical hardwood hammocks, pine rockland, and the marine environment of Florida Bay.
Human habitation in the southern portion of the Florida peninsula dates to 15,000 years ago. Before European colonization, the region was dominated by the native Calusa and Tequesta tribes. With Spanish colonization, both tribes declined gradually during the following two centuries. The Seminole, formed from mostly Creek people who had been warring to the North, assimilated other peoples and created a new culture after being forced from northern Florida into the Everglades during the Seminole Wars of the early 19th century. After adapting to the region, they were able to resist removal by the United States Army.
Migrants to the region who wanted to develop plantations first proposed draining the Everglades in 1848, but no work of this type was attempted until 1882. Canals were constructed throughout the first half of the 20th century, and spurred the South Florida economy, prompting land development. In 1947, Congress formed the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project, which built 1,400 miles (2,300 km) of canals, levees, and water control devices. The Miami metropolitan area grew substantially at this time and Everglades water was diverted to cities. Portions of the Everglades were transformed into farmland, where the primary crop was sugarcane. Approximately 50 percent of the original Everglades has been developed as agricultural or urban areas.
The Everglades have a
slope to the south of only two inches to the mile and, along the eastern side
of the great prairie, there is a river with an almost imperceptible flow. This
river, which is only a few inches deep and 50 miles wide, moves slowly towards
the south. Along the west side tall cypresses, hundreds of years old, stand in
the Big Cypress Swamp. The whole area is waterlogged, for beneath the peat beds
there is a porous rock which soaks up water like a sponge. All this
freshwater-soaked land keeps back the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean, and the
excess of water flows into the sea.
Grasses grow in the shallow, slow-moving river. Tall cypress trees flourish in the swamps. The area is rich in vegetation and wild life. A primitive world, thousands of years old, continues into the present and the Americans sought to preserve this by creating the Everglades National Park. But in spite of these efforts, civilization is destroying this primitive world.
Agricultural land is being reclaimed by draining the swamps. Water is being taken from Lake Okeechobee and diverted from the river to quench the thirst of the Atlantic seaboard cities of Palm Beach and Miami. On the surface, the peaty soil dries out and becomes easily ignited tinder. Carelessly thrown cigarette ends create hundreds of fires. As the swamps dry out and become barren, Nature’s balance is destroyed and the wild life is threatened with extinction. The Everglades may well be doomed.
Following this period of rapid development and environmental degradation, the ecosystem began to receive notable attention from conservation groups in the 1970s. Internationally, UNESCO and the Ramsar Convention designated the Everglades a Wetland Area of Global Importance. The construction of a large airport 6 miles (9.7 km) north of Everglades National Park was blocked when an environmental study found that it would severely damage the South Florida ecosystem. With heightened awareness and appreciation of the region, restoration began in the 1980s with the removal of a canal that had straightened the Kissimmee River.
However, development and sustainability concerns have remained pertinent in the region. The deterioration of the Everglades, including poor water quality in Lake Okeechobee, was linked to the diminishing quality of life in South Florida’s urban areas. In 2000 the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was approved by Congress to combat these problems. To date, it is the most expensive and comprehensive environmental restoration attempt in history, but its implementation has faced political complications.