The picture above shows a group of Florida Master Naturalists who are taking a class in wetland systems walking through the part of the Corkscrew Regional Ecological Watershed. The Florida Master Naturalist Program educates people wishing to learn more about various ecosystems of Florida including wetlands (swamps and marshes) coastal areas and upland areas. The tour that this group was on included a three mile hike through a marsh system which alternated between wet and dry areas and had different plant and animal life throughout. Shorter tours are available in the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. The area is under water at certain rainy times of the year, generally summer. The Florida Master Naturalist Program is conducted by the Univ. of Florida Extension Service held in most counties of Florida. People who take these classes often become teachers and tour guides themselves of Florida’s natural preserves. I obtained a greater understanding and appreciation for areas covered by swamps, marshes and other wetlands while I was taking this course. I thoroughly enjoyed taking my class in wetland systems , met some great people and hope to take the other two modules in the future.
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Picayune State Forest
Habitat – A habitat is any piece of land whether it is covered by water or dry land that has certain unique plant and animal species living in that area. Habitats can be differentiated by the living, (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) factors in that area. The Biotic factors (wildlife etc.) of wetlands depend on the availability of healthy resources like clean air, water and soil. You can see a healthy habitat when there is an abundant amount of wildlife in the area. Abiotic or non-living features of habitats determine whether organisms (plants, animals and micro-organisms) can survive in that area. One of the biggest factors for the loss of wildlife in an area is the loss of habitat or living area in which certain animals and organisms call home. The Florida Panther has seen a decline in its numbers because its’ habitat has been taken away by development of its hunting ground into urban and agricultural areas. The state and federal government has set aside thousands of acres of land into WMA’s or Wildlife Management Areas to protect the habitat of birds, fish, and other animals. The Florida Fish and Wildlife and Conservation Commission has an excellent website describing WMA’s and how preserving land for wildlife and public recreation can preserve habitats.
Alligators at Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
American Alligator – (Alligator mississippiensis)
The American Alligator is Florida’s state reptile and inhabits fresh, brackish and saltwater environments. It can be seen in Floridas sub-tropical wetlands, swamps, marshes, ponds, lakes and rivers . The Alligator can grow in size from 6ft to 19 ft. Alligators feed on fish, mammals, birds, turtles, snakes and frogs. Alligators were over hunted in the 1800’s and 1990’s for their skins and soon became an endangered species. The Endangered Species Act and prohibition of illegal hunting of Alligators gave them a chance to recover in numbers and they made a comeback and are no longer an endangered species. It is still illegal to hunt them.
The two alligators pictures above were photographed on Sanibel and the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples. Alligators can also be dangerous to humans and should not be approached or fed. It is against state law to feed Alligators. Alligators are a common sight in Florida and can be seen in many places including parks and preserves, and residential neighborhood’s with lakes and canals. Florida is the only place where Alligators and Crocodiles live together. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has some additional facts and information about alligators.
click on pictures for larger image Photo by Dave Zuhusky
illustration of aquifer
The Ft. Myers News Press Editorial section on Feb. 24th, 2014 ran an article titled “Water a Priority” which explains how Florida legislators are making Florida’s resources, infrastructure and water quality a priority issue is this years legislative session. The article points out that many of our springs which are connected with our freshwater wetlands and aquifers are contaminated with pollution from septic tanks, agricultural and urban fertilizers. Florida’s population needs an adequate supply of freshwater which comes from our natural springs and underground aquifers.
Senator Bill Monford, a Democrat from Tallahassee is working with Republican legislators to sponsor a bill that would try and protect our springs from pollution. Monford calls this as yet unmarked piece legislation a “landmark piece of legislation”. Part of the legislation would use documentary stamp money which is revenue in real estate transactions to pay for spring protection and force homeowners to upgrade their septic systems or force them to hook up to a sewer system. The Florida Association of Counties seems to agree with this priority when it said, “Florida must invest in water quality and supply infrastructure to support a healthy economy and environment. “ Illustration and picture courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey.
Turtles at Six Mile Slough Preserve
A wetland is an area that is covered by water part or most of the year. A swamp is a good example of a wetland because it is submerged most of the year by rainfall, sheet flow of water or underground springs. Marshes are wetlands that are covered by water for a shorter period of time and may be dry for part of the year. The Everglades National Park or “River of Grass” in Florida is one of the best known examples of wetlands because its ground is covered with water for most of the year. Soils in Wetlands are called hydric or alluvial which means they are covered by water most of the year and thus have different kinds of plants and vegetation. Other types of wetlands may be called marshes, estuaries bogs, bayheads, cypress domes, stands and sloughs, or wet prairies. The Univ. of Florida IFAS does a lot of research into the ecology of wetlands and have a good description of wetlands and their importance. The picture shown above is a pond at Six Mile Cypress Slough in Ft. Myers. A slough is a slow moving swamp channeling the water downstream.
Beach on Sanibel Island
Shells on Sanibel Island near Blind Pass
Kayaking and Paddleboarding
Sanibel Island is located in Southwest Florida and is accessible by a causeway and bridge from Ft. Myers, Florida. It is well known as a quiet and pretty island with great beaches to collect shells, swim in the warm Gulf waters and soak up the sun. You can ususally see dolphins swimming in the Gulf or in Pine Island Sound as you drive onto the island. I took a kayak trip on the bay side of the Island once and had two dolphins come up and swim beside me. Other attractions on the island are golf courses, excellent restaurants and the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge Preserve. More information about Sanibel and nearby Captiva Island is found on the Sanibel-Captiva Islands website.
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Sailing off Sanibel
Sailing off Sanibel Island with a small boat can be a lot of fun and a good way to see Pine Island Sound which covers most of the area off Sanibel, Ft. Myers Beach and the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. You might catch a glimpse of dolphins swimming by which are plentiful in these waters. These sailors brought their small sailboat to the Sanibel Causeway with car and small trailer and launched it from the causeway beach. Since it was a fairly windy day, they had no problem catching a breeze and off they went. If you want to sail on a bigger boat or would want to learn how to sail there is a company called Colgate Off Shore Sailing which has boats on Ft. Myers Beach and Captiva Island. You can learn more about sailing lessons and trips by clicking on the Ft. Myers Beach Colgate Sailing Website or reading reviews on Trip Advisors website. They also have boats on Captiva Island although I think you have to be a guest at private South Seas Plantation Resort to sail there.
click on image to see larger picture photo by Dave Zuhusky
Ecosystem – an ecosystem is defined by a community of organisms interacting with one another and with the chemical and physical factors in the environment. Physical factors would include climate, amount of rain an area receives, soil types and composition and fire disturbances. The living organisms of an ecosystem would include wildlife, plants, trees and very small micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi.
There are many types of ecosystems on earth, some that exist on land and some in the oceans or inland water systems. I have included a picture of a Blue Heron in this article because the birds in this ecosystem and other forms of wildlife are the living factors in this ecosystem the non living factors are the water the bird drinks and fishes in water, the soil on the banks of the river and the air that the heron breathes. The wildlife and physical factors in a dry ecosystem like a desert would support much different species of plants and animals. There are many websites and sources to learn about ecosystems. One that I found and like is a site called web world wonders.
Great Blue Heron
The Ten Mile Canal was renamed the John Yarbrough Linear Park and is a great place to walk, run, skate, or relax and ejoy the peaceful scenery. It is actually a six mile park and is a great place in the middle of our busy South Ft. Myers region to get away from the noise and traffic. The park is one of the parks created and managed by the Parks and Recreation Dept. of Lee County. The canal was actually established as a storm drain to take the heavy rain waters from nearby roads and neighborhoods and send them on their way to the Estero Bay. Lee County built a filter marsh along the canal in one area just south of Daniels Pkwy and is a fabulous environmental engineering accomplishment to help clean the waters before they enter our bays and estuaries when they empty into the Estero Aquatic Preserve. I have taken a lot of pictures of birds and wildlife in the linear park. The park can be accessed at Daniels Pkwy, Cypress Lake Dr. and Colonial Blvd. There is some limited parking at the Daniels Pkwy entrance but the best way to see the park is to bicycle or walk there.
Bald Cypress Tree – (Taxodium distichum) is a common tree in the wetland areas and swamps of Florida. The base of the tree is wide at the bottom to give it greater support since the root structure does not extend deep into the wet soil bed. The roots extend outward and form networks with other Bald Cypress trees. The trees develop knees or short stumps nearby and their purpose is to provide oxygen to the tree. These trees are located in areas that are immersed in water much of the year. The smaller of the Cypress trees is the Pond Cypress which grows in dryer areas of wetlands. These trees are important for the structure of a swamp since they hold soil in place and they also provide habitat for birds such as Limpkins and Wood Stork. The Bald Cypress was logged heavily earlier in the 20th Century and dense stands disappeared but they are being replaced in areas to restore wetlands. Some of the best Bald Cypress trees that I have seen in Florida were at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Ft. Myers and Old Growth Bald Cypress trees at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples.
Bald Cypress Tree TrunksBald Cypress Knees