Many people may wonder why wetlands are important. It wasn’t long ago that land developers, farmers, settlers and even our government agencies looked for ways to dry up the land and make it suitable for economic uses and home steading. Canals were built to divert the water away from large terrains of land covered with wetlands such as swamps and other wetland bodies.
Floridians now realize their mistakes of destroying wetlands because freshwater is becoming an ever-decreasing resource in the state which provides bountiful benefits. The National Park Service has a website that describes the benefits of healthy wetlands. Some of them include an adequate supply of fresh drinking water to provide for 20 million people residing in the state and millions more who visit here annually. Fresh drinking water is probably the most important resource that this country has besides clean air.
Other benefits include providing healthy habitats for wildlife, an ecosystem which protects marine life, coastal storm protection, and recreational opportunities. There are several wetland systems in SW Florida including the Six Mile Cypress Slough which is a slow moving swamp which was restored a few decades ago to protect freshwater supplies as well as provide recreational opportunities to many people who enjoy walking along its wooden boardwalks and viewing wildlife.
Another large wetland in SW Florida is the 60,000 acre Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. CREW as it is called provides a large underwater aquifer system that provides freshwater to thousands of Floridians who live in the area. There is a staff of people who provide educational opportunities at CREW to people who want to see the area and learn about the benefits of this ecosystem. Visit their website to learn more.
The pictures shown above L-R are of a bunch of wading birds feeding upon marine life in a stream, the Platt Creek Mitigation Preserve and kayakers enjoying some touring through the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. Click on any picture for a larger view.
The pictures shown above are of the visitor center and paths through the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation on Sanibel Island, Fla. SCCF is one of the many attractions on Sanibel because they have several preserves, trails, a garden center and exhibits that show and explain how coastal and inland habitats live and thrive under unique conditions. The main mission of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation is to conserve the coastal resources and aquatic habitats on Sanibel and Captiva and surrounding watershed.
The SCCF has several scientists on staff who monitor the water quality around Sanibel and report on the amount of pollution, dissolved oxygen, salinity and other factors of the watershed. The waters around Sanibel were once filled with healthy oyster beds but they have been diminished and threatened by the amount of pollution coming from nearby places.
The Visitor Center at the SCCF is a great place to see the native animals and plants that live on Sanibel-Captiva including the turtles who nest on the islands. There are live turtles to view and exhibits of habitats. If you have the time and like hiking, there is a trail that winds through the several hundred acre preserve where you can view fresh water habitats, native birds and trees on Sanibel. The trail is well marked and you can take a short stroll or walk the whole length of the preserve which can take an hour or two. The trail contains an observation tower as well.
One of the best well known and cared for parts of SCCF is the Native Garden Center which was recently moved to a better and larger location on Periwinkle Way which contains several acres of plants and shrubs to view or purchase. It is managed and cared for by employees of SCCF and many volunteers.
Bald Cypress Trees in Six Mile Cypress Slough and Swamp
Swamps, marshes and prairies are a common part of the landscape of Florida. They are important for several reasons including flood control, water storage and supply and providing a habitat for fish and wildlife. Swamps differ from marshes because of their hydro period (length of time they are submerged in water) and the type of trees, and vegetation that grows there. Swamps and Marshes covered half of Florida at one time but they have been reduced by over 50% because of the urbanization of the land and uses for farming and livestock. Florida’s swamps are dominated by woody vegetation (trees) as opposed to marshes which are dominated by herbaceous vegetation such as low growing shrubs and grasses. Swamps are biologically more diverse than marshes and therefore are home to a greater variety of fish and animals. Swamps are located in depressions in the land and have standing water in them for over half of the year. Bald Cypress, Pond Cypress, Tupelo and Pine trees are common in swamp land and forests. Hammocks are protrusions of land from the swamp that may hold a group of trees and wildlife that prefer a dryer soil bed. Some of the larger swamps that remain in Florida are The Everglades National Parkhttp://www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm
Welcome to my Website and Blog OurWetlands in Florida. This site is meant to inform readers about the importance of wetlands or land that is partially or fully submerged in water for most of the year. Florida was once mostly a wetland consisting of swamps, marshes, estuaries and shallow bodies of water south of Orlando that flowed south towards the Everglades. Wetlands in Florida and in other states filter and clean the water we drink, and provides a healthy habitat for wildlife. Included in this blog/website are photos of parks, preserves and wildlife that depend on healthy wetlands. Browse around to the different posts and pictures by clicking on one of the recent posts, categories or the archives. I have included many links to other websites if you want to learn more about a specific topic. The pictures are originals that I took with my digital camera unless otherwise noted. Click on pictures for larger images. Comments are appreciated and make a blog more interesting to readers. Thanks for visiting. – Dave Zuhusky
Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Observation Tower
The Sanibel & Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) is dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel & Captiva Islands. The SCCF manages over 1,300 acres of land on the islands and owns an additional 500 acres on nearby Pine Island. The SCCF Marine Laboratory conducts research on areas including seagrasses, mangroves and harmful algal blooms, fish populations and shell-fish restoration. SCCF’s RECON (River,Estuary, and Coastal Network) network of seven in-water sensors provides real-time hourly readings of key water quality parameters over a 90 mile area.
The SCCF also offers educational programs for people of all ages from beach walks to boat tours, wading trips, kayak trip tours and classroom based activities. There is a great trail to hike and walk where you will see a lot of the native trees, plants and wildlife from the islands. The SCCF’s 4 miles of trails also has an observation tower where you can see a large part of the preserve. The visitor center has a touch tank of marine life, butterfly house and nature shop. The SCCF also has a Nature Plant Nursery with a wide variety of plants for sale. www.sccf.org
The Cypress Dome is a distinct area within a forested wetland that has a characteristic dome shaped look when seen from a distance. I got this picture of a small Cypress Dome that sits in a small lake in my homeowners community. It would look a lot better if they removed the other invasive trees that grow next to the native Cypress trees. The ecological community of trees usually is located on a piece of land that is lower in the middle than at the edges and has more standing water in the middle which makes the trees grow taller. Trees that make up a Cypress Dome are usually Bald Cypress, Pond Cypress, Swamp Gum, Red Maple, Sweet Bay, (Magnolia) Dahoon Holly, Swamp Bay, and Slash Pine. Ground cover of plants is usually less because of the presence of standing water. The Dept. of Environmental Protection of Florida describes the Cypress Domes in more detail. The vines growing up the trees in this picture are Old World Growing Ferns, an invasive weed that is often seen and should be removed. I have seen some great Cypress Domes on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University where they cleared the land of many of the invasive trees and left the native Slash Pine and other trees standing. FGCU has much of it’s land preserved as wetlands and dry prairies.
The Resuurection Fern – (Polypodium polypodioides) is a plant often found in swamps growing on tree trunks that are dead or alive. These ferns are epiphyte or air plants which mean they attach themselves to tree branches or trunks and spread from there obtaining their moisture and nutrients from the air. The Resurrection Fern can grow in dense mats as seen in this picture. It is a native plant and not invasive and does not harm the tree it is growing on. They can be seen sometimes with other air plants or epiphytes such as Orchids and Spanish Moss. An interesting fact about the Resurrection Fern is that it can lose most of it’s water content in dry periods and shrivel up but spring back to life once it gets wet again by rain or running water. The Univ. of Fla. IFAS Gardening Solutions website has some additional facts about this plant as well as the National Wildlife Federation website.
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.
Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) can be seen in many of our wetlands and in our neighborhoods usually wading for food in shallow water. The body is blue/gray in color and has a wing span of up to 72 inches. You can tell the difference between the Egret and a Heron by the Heron’s larger size, larger bill and yellow-gray legs. The pictures of these two Herons were taken at a local fresh water pond and along the salt water coastline of the Sanibel Causeway. The Great Blue Herons are beautiful birds when standing still or wading in the water and even prettier to look at when they take flight. The All About Birds website has great information in learning about and identifying birds.
Pond at Six Mile Cypress Slough – click on picture to enlarge
Our Wetlands which are composed of Estuaries, Marshes and Swamps are vital to the health of Florida. Our Wetlands help to let rainwater seep into the ground and recharge our aquifers where we get much of our drinking water. With a population of 19 million people in 2014 and growing fast we cannot jeopardize our health and future water supplies by over developing the land with impervious surfaces like roads, parking lots, residential and commercial developments. We need to keep green spaces likes parks, marshes, swamps, lakes and other areas alive and growing in number to support ourselves and our important habitats for wildlife. The University of Florida IFAS has a good website describing basic facts of wetlands. You can scroll through this website and see various kinds of wetlands.