Yesterday, we took a day trip to the part of Everglades National Park that is closest to Ft. Myers. It was a two-hour drive to Everglades City, the park's western saltwater gateway. Everglades is the third largest National Park (after Yellowstone and Death Valley) but much of the acreage here is water -- and islands. Nothing in the whole park is more than eight feet above sea level. We took a guided boat tour to explore the part called Ten Thousand Islands in Chokoloskee Bay.
South Florida is not very old in geological terms. It surfaced during the Ice Age and is built on rock which is only 6,000 to 8,000 years old. On the first part of this tour, it was easy to see examples of this sedimentary rock where the channel to the harbor was dug. The brackish water here is stained brown from the tanin in the mangrove leaves that are dropped.
As we got further out, the water began to get bluer. It was deeper and there was more salt in this water from the Gulf of Mexico. We could see where the sandbars and low islands are built up into larger islands by the action of the mangrove trees. These are also called Florida Walking Trees because of the way their branches seem to wander out into the water. They form roots which provide stability for the trees, allowing them to absorb needed water from the saltwater. They also trap sediment which builds and enlarges the lands. These islands provide feeding grounds and rookeries for sea life and birds and reduce water and flood damage. South Florida is the only place in the US where the conditions are right for mangrove trees to grow.
There are so many of these islands that it is almost impossible to tell where you are. It is said that people have been lost forever among them. Good thing our boat pilot knew the area.
Pioneer conservationists called the Everglades "River of Grass." The grass river still flows toward the bay and the Gulf of Mexico, but it is threatened. This National Park was the first one created to protect a threatened ecological system.
Water management is a critical issue for the Everglades. Canals and other water controls outside of the park disrupt the natural flow. Agricultural runoff could cause the Everglades to die. There are ongoing efforts to save it, including the recent purchase of a huge sugar plantation which will soon be taken out of production and returned to swamp land.
On our way home from the Park, we stopped at Turner Creek. This is an excellent place to see birds and Florida alligators (one is in the picture below). So it was another National Park for our "life list" and a great day trip from Ft. Myers.