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Everglades facts for kids

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Everglades Sawgrass Prairie Moni3.JPG
The most prominent feature of the Everglades are the sawgrass prairies found across the region.
Location of Everglades in the southern third of the Florida Peninsula
Location Florida, United States
Coordinates 26°00′N 80°42′W / 26.0°N 80.7°W / 26.0; -80.7
Area 7,800 square miles (20,000 km2)

The Everglades is a natural region of tropical wetlands in the southern portion of the U.S. state of Florida, comprising the southern half of a large drainage basin within the Neotropical realm. The ecosystem it forms is not presently found anywhere else on earth.

The system begins near Orlando with the Kissimmee River, which discharges into the vast but shallow Lake Okeechobee. Water leaving the lake in the wet season forms a slow-moving river 60 miles (97 km) wide and over 100 miles (160 km) long, flowing southward across a limestone shelf to Florida Bay at the southern end of the state. The Everglades experience a wide range of weather patterns, from frequent flooding in the wet season to drought in the dry season. Throughout the 20th century, the Everglades suffered significant loss of habitat and environmental degradation.

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.

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 (10 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, which at that time was considered the most expensive and comprehensive environmental restoration attempt in history; however, implementation faced political complications.


Native Americans

Humans arrived in the Florida peninsula approximately 15,000 years ago. Paleo-Indians came to Florida probably following large game that included giant sloths, saber-toothed cats, and spectacled bears. They found an arid landscape that supported plants and animals adapted for desert conditions.

However, 6,500 years ago, climate changes brought a wetter landscape; large animals became extinct in Florida, and the Paleo-Indians slowly adapted and became the Archaic peoples. They conformed to the environmental changes, and created many tools with the various resources available.

During the Late Archaic period, the climate became wetter again, and approximately 3000 BCE the rise of water tables allowed an increase in population and cultural activity.

Florida Indians developed into three distinct but similar cultures that were named for the bodies of water near where they were located: Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee, and Glades.

Calusa and Tequesta

From the Glades peoples, two major nations emerged in the area: the Calusa and the Tequesta. The Calusa was the largest and most powerful nation in South Florida. It controlled fifty villages located on Florida's west coast, around Lake Okeechobee, and on the Florida Keys. Most Calusa villages were located at the mouths of rivers or on key islands. The Calusa were hunter-gatherers who lived on small game, fish, turtles, alligators, shellfish, and various plants. Most of their tools were made of bone or teeth, although sharpened reeds were also effective for hunting or war. Calusa weapons consisted of bows and arrows, atlatls, and spears. Canoes were used for transportation, and South Florida tribes often canoed through the Everglades, but rarely lived in them. Canoe trips to Cuba were also common.

Estimated numbers of Calusa at the beginning of the Spanish occupation ranged from 4,000 to 7,000. The society declined in power and population; by 1697 their number was estimated to be about 1,000. In the early 18th century, the Calusa came under attack from the Yamasee to the north. They asked the Spanish for refuge in Cuba, where almost 200 died of illness. Soon they were relocated again to the Florida Keys.

Second in power and number to the Calusa in South Florida were the Tequesta. They occupied the southeastern portion of the lower peninsula in modern-day Dade and Broward counties.

Like the Calusa, the Tequesta societies centered on the mouths of rivers. Their main village was probably on the Miami River or Little River.

Spanish depictions of the Tequesta state that they were greatly feared by sailors, who suspected them of torturing and killing survivors of shipwrecks.

With an increasing European presence in south Florida, Native Americans from the Keys and other areas began increasing their trips to Cuba. Official permission for the immigration of Native Americans from the Florida Keys was granted by Cuban officials in 1704. Spanish priests attempted to set up missions in 1743, but noted that the Tequesta were under assault from a neighboring tribe. When only 30 members were left, they were removed to Havana. A British surveyor in 1770 described multiple deserted villages in the region where the Tequesta lived. Common descriptions of Native Americans in Florida by 1820 used only the term "Seminoles".


Charley Cypress Seminole Everglades
Seminoles made their home in the Everglades

Following the demise of the Calusa and Tequesta, Native Americans in southern Florida were referred to as "Spanish Indians" in the 1740s, probably due to their friendlier relations with Spain.

The Creek invaded the Florida peninsula; they conquered and assimilated what was left of pre-Columbian societies into the Creek Confederacy. They were joined by remnant Indian groups and formed the Seminole, a new tribe, by ethnogenesis. The Seminole originally settled in the northern portion of the territory.

In addition, free blacks and fugitive slaves made their way to Florida, where Spain had promised slaves freedom and arms if they converted to Catholicism and pledged loyalty to Spain. These African Americans gradually created communities near those of the Seminole, and became known as the Black Seminoles. The groups acted as allies.

In 1817, Andrew Jackson invaded Florida to hasten its annexation to the United States, in what became known as the First Seminole War.

After Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821, conflicts between settlers and the Seminole increased as the former tried to acquire lands. The Second Seminole War lasted from 1835 to 1842, and afterward, the US forcibly removed about 3,000 Seminole and 800 Black Seminole to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), west of the Mississippi River. Many others died in the war.

Conflict broke out again in the Third Seminole War from 1855 to 1859, when a few hundred Seminole fought off US forces from the swamps of the Everglades. The US finally decided to leave them alone, as they could not dislodge them even after this protracted and expensive warfare.

By 1913, the Seminole in the Everglades numbered no more than 325. They made a living by hunting and trading with white settlers, and raised domesticated animals. The Seminole made their villages in hardwood hammocks or pinelands, had diets of hominy and coontie roots, fish, turtles, venison, and small game. Their villages were not large, due to the limited size of the hammocks. Between the end of the last Seminole War and 1930, the people lived in relative isolation from the majority culture.

The construction of the Tamiami Trail, beginning in 1928 and spanning the region from Tampa to Miami, altered their ways of life. Some began to work in local farms, ranches, and souvenir stands. Some of the people who interacted more with European Americans began to move to reservations in the 1940s. These were their bases for reorganizing their government and they became federally recognized in 1957 as the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

People who kept more traditional ways had settlements along the Tamiami Trail and tended to speak the Mikasuki language. They later were federally recognized in 1962 as the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. As metropolitan areas in South Florida began to grow, the two groups were closely associated with the Everglades. They struggled to maintain privacy while serving as tourist attractions. They earned money by wrestling alligators and selling craftworks.


US War Department Everglades Map 1856
Map of the Everglades in 1856: Military action during the Seminole Wars improved understanding of the features of the Everglades

A survey team led by railroad executive James Edmundson Ingraham explored the area in 1892. In 1897, explorer Hugh Willoughby spent eight days canoeing with a party from the mouth of the Harney River to the Miami River. He sent his observations to the New Orleans Times-Democrat. Willoughby described the water as healthy and wholesome, with numerous springs, and 10,000 alligators "more or less" in Lake Okeechobee. The party encountered thousands of birds near the Shark River, "killing hundreds, but they continued to return". Willoughby pointed out that much of the rest of the country had been explored and mapped except for this part of Florida, writing, "(w)e have a tract of land one hundred and thirty miles long and seventy miles wide that is as much unknown to the white man as the heart of Africa."

National park

Everglades Hammock Center
In a tropical hardwood hammock, trees are very dense and diverse.
Big cypress
A pond in The Big Cypress
Mangrove trees in Everglades
Red mangrove trees bordering a tidal estuary in the Everglades

Being a national park in the U.S. state of Florida, it helps protect around 25 percent of the original Everglades. It is the largest subtropical forest in the United States. On average, around one million people visit it each year.

It is the third-largest national park in the lower 48 states after Death Valley and Yellowstone. It is an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance. It is one of only three parks in the world to be on all three lists.

Unlike most national parks in the US, Everglades National Park was started to protect a weak ecosystem and its unique geographic feature. The Everglades are wetlands. It is created by a slow-moving river coming from Lake Okeechobee. It flows through the Kissimmee River to the southwest at about .25 miles (0.40 km) per day, to Florida Bay.

The park protects a connected network of marshland and forest ecosystems. They are maintained by natural forces. There are thirty-six species of endangered and threatened living in the park. Some of them are: Florida panther, the American crocodile, and the West Indian manatee.

The park protects the largest U.S. wilderness area east of the Mississippi River. It is the most significant breeding place for tropical wading birds in North America. It also has the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western hemisphere.

It is also home to more than 350 species of birds, 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish, 40 species of mammals, and 50 species of reptiles live within Everglades National Park.

Diversion and quality of water

Future Drainage in South Florida
Planned water recovery and storage implementation using CERP strategies

All of South Florida's fresh water are kept in the Biscayne Aquifer. They are also recharged in the park. Only less than 50 percent of the Everglades water remain today.

Between the 1940s and 2000s, the number of wading birds has become smaller. It has reached around 90 percent decrease from their original numbers .

The diversion of water to South Florida's still-growing metropolitan areas is the number one threat for the park's inhabitants.

In the 1950s and 1960s, 1,400 miles (2,300 km) of canals and levees, 150 gates and spillways, and 16 pumping stations were built to lead water towards the cities and away from the Everglades. Low levels of water leave many fishes vulnerable to reptiles and birds. As sawgrass dry, it can burn or die off.

As a result, many apple snails and other animals that wading birds feed upon, are killed. Populations of birds have been dropping.

In 2009, the South Florida Water Management District claimed that the number of wading birds across South Florida have increased by 335%. However, despite three years of reported higher numbers, The Miami Herald discovered the same year that populations of waders in the park decreased by 29%.

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