Monday, June 20, 2011


As we took off in the tram, our ranger informed us that Florida and in particular, the Everglades was in a major drought. The Everglades were the driest they have been in 35 years. This is causing many problems including the threat of fire, set off by lightning strikes or the biggest threat, human carelessness.  Driving off marked roads, smoking and campfires could all be a lethal mix for the natural and cultural resources. If one was to start, it would almost be impossible to quickly get under control. The loss of animal life would be particularly devastating. 

Fire was the the Everglades natural way of getting rid of dead and dying trees and plants. They would be replaced with new fresh growth. But for the animals, it could be devastating. In the past animals could sense the fire and move to a different area to escape it. Now all the new construction has prevented them from getting from one area to another.  Much of the Everglades are covered in peat moss. In a fire the flames could travel underground burning the moss and traveling great distances. 

Another problem caused by the drought is water levels are way down. We traveled on roads that would normally be under two feet of water but are now dry. This causes major problems with the animals. The alligators mate in deep water. The males hold the females below the water and mate (not exactly romantic for the female) but with the water levels being so low, mating is not happening at the same rate, so less alligators are being born. They are endangered already. If this was to keep up, who knows what would happen to them.

This is a list of endangered species in the Everglades;

  • American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)
  • Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)
  • Atlantic Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys kempi)
  • Atlantic hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
  • Atlantic leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
  • Cape Sable seaside sparrow (Ammodramus maritima mirabilis)
  • Snail (Everglades) kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis plumbeus)
  • Wood stork (Mycteria americana)
  • West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus)
  • Florida panther (Felis concolor coryi)
  • Key Largo wood rat (Neotoma floridana smalli)
  • Key Largo cotton mouse (Peromyscus gossypinus allapaticola)
  • Red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis)
  • Schaus swallowtail butterfly (Papilio aristodemus ponceanus)
  • Garber's Spurge (Chamaesyce garberi)
Some of you might be thinking, so what??  A few less alligators, would that really be a problem?  To quote an old TV commercial; Don't fool with mother nature!!!  We have found time and time again that when we do, it causes problems for all species including humans.

Alligators, as top predators, play an important role in Florida's ecosystem. Alligators build nests and dig large holes ("gator holes") that create habitats for a wide variety of wildlife, especially during droughts. Alligators have complex social behaviors, including elaborate courtship displays. You can hear the bellowing of courting alligators in swamps in the spring. Alligators communicate vocally and visually through body postures. Female alligators are very protectice of their nests, and baby alligators will stay with their mothers for as long as two years. Alligators can live to be more than 35 years old in the wild.

These unique animals have existed for millions of years. Yet alligators have much to fear when they encounter human beings who have left them with dwindling habitats. To make matters worse, alligators are tormented and killed for amusement and profit.
This is a young gator 
in a small culvert we could see from our van. It was possibly the lone survivor of a hatching that produced up to
40 baby alligators. They are in danger from all kinds of predators including Great Blue Herons. We saw more of the blues in the Everglades than any other wading birds. They are there because the baby alligators provide a great food source for them. Again nature has a plan. It may sound cruel but if most of the 40 babies lived, Florida and surrounding states would be overrun by them.

Alligators serve an important role in the balance of nature. We need only look to Gatorland in Orlando to witness one of the many important contributions alligators provide. Thousands of indigenous aquatic birds have made Gatorland their home. Why? Because alligators protect their nests from such natural predators as raccoons and opossums. Thousands of herons and egrets, along with many threatened and endangered birds nest virtually on top of each other, because the alligators make it safer to hatch their eggs and raise their young.

This image shows a family of Sandhill Cranes. We were told that the two adults visit the Everglades each year to have their babies. 

When you look out into the Everglades from the tram, you see miles and miles of Sawgrass fields. Sawgrass is a tall plant (not really a grass) that if you looked at it closely, would reveal tiny ridges or teeth along the length of it sides. If you're not careful you could get tiny, paper like, cuts from touching it. Sawgrass is the most prominent plant in the Everglades. It can be a safe home for many species, preventing predators from reaching them easily. I think the fields are beautiful much like the fields of wheat that you see in other areas of the US. But when they are dry like they are now, it can become a fuel that feeds the fire!

                              A river still runs through it.

      This image shows one of the small water holes along the road    
      which are normally much larger.

An immature alligator was spotted on the left side of the tram. You can see why we recommend getting a seat on that side of the tram, unless you happen to like silhouettes of the people who wisely sat on the left!!

   This is a Great Blue and Phyllis' silhouette. You will    
   see a much better image of the heron when Phyllis 
   posts her images. (Remember sit on the left!!!!)

At one point the tram stopped and the ranger took people for a short walk out to a larger water hole. Bill (the ranger) was very informative and entertaining. We really recommend taking the tram ride and looking for Bill, if you can!

This is the tram's road between fields of sawgrass and the wonderfully blue Florida sky above.

About half way through the fifteen mile loop trip, we came to an observation tower built in 1984. It spiraled skyward about fifty feet. Once on top you can see the River of Sawgrass spreading out as far as you can see.

        Phyllis climbed to the top of the tower.

I really enjoyed our trip to the Everglades and will be visiting it many times. We hope that it is still there for generations to come, although we have our worries. Between the drought, threat of fire and man's encroachment on its land, the Everglades and the species that live there are in danger of surviving.

The danger even involves people taking their pet pythons and releasing them into the Everglades. I know this sounds like a really bad movie plot but it is true. These former pets grow too large and then the owners release them into the wild where they mate and now there are pythons overrunning the park. 

The Burmese python is one of the worlds largest snakes.
(I won't even go into what I think about these former owners! What were they thinking when they bought these snakes? Did they not understand what 20 feet was?? That's how long these snakes grow to.) 

People have witnessed, on a few occasions, major battles between these snakes and the alligators. So far it appears that the alligators are holding there own but how long that is true is anyone's guess.

This is just another danger to the park and the species already endangered who live there. 



vaisakhi said...

super awesome clicks....spl loved the river n sky pics...:)

Rimly said...

Your pictures and your informative narrative really makes interesting reading. I may not go to all these places but at least I am more educated because of your posts. Thank you Jim for sharing. xoxo

Sea Green Natural said...

I really enjoy the story telling with the pictures. It makes it interesting. Pythons, I don't like those snakes.

Roy Durham said...

great pics and the problem with people and so call pets. we have it here in Utah with turning loose all kind of animals that don't belong here. i wish they would get a brain. i don't want to get started here on that subject. thank you for the photos someday i will get down there to see for my self. till then thank you and god bless

melissa said...

Oh Jim, I've been reading and mulling over your story and reflection since last night.

It's like an open diary and tuning in to Discovery channel at the same time.

You have fed me so much this time.And I have my fill. Information couple with strong emotions towards nature and ecosystem.

We could be strong to point out that alligators are the predators. But in their eyes, we are the ones taking advantage of them. And I just saw bags and belts made of alligator skins...geez...We could be more cruel many times.

I like that photo when you finally had that walk (and out f the tram :P)... just stayed close to the ranger right?

And that blur of a silhouette you took of Phyllis...I finally had the idea why you wanted to sit at her post...:P

Oh and about the phythons...I think we need a crash course on the ecosystem's balance...We keep on doing the opposite...

Thanks for this great post. I'll reflect more on it;)

Alpana Jaiswal said...

“Photography is truth.”And that is what you are Jim..Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever... it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything....I love every picture here.

Jim said...

Great informative post Jim, and I have also posted up about the plight of crocodiles on my site. As a custom shoemaker, I decided way long time ago not to use exotic hides in my work. Reptile skins look best on the original wearer.
And I'll be posting some great pics of crocs on my site shortly.
Nice post again.

FAYE said...

My mind's well fed again =p
Thank you for the informations! =)

Dangerous Linda said...

Looks like you two have so much fun traveling and shooting together -- BRAVO! Thank you for sharing!

Nava.K said...

great pics with plenty of info on your posting. My close friend lives at Florida and I am not really curious to find out further on the issues you have shared.

Nelieta said...

This is really sad to read. How can anyone free their pet pythons there?Why did they have it in the first place? We had serious fires in our mountains and valley 2 years ago. It was terrible and came very close to our house. To make a long story short, a lot of animals died, land was destroyed and a wild fox came to our house to eat. He stayed here for about 2 months and then left. It was so sad and people can be so ignorant!

Great photos and thank you for creating the awareness!

Ravenmyth said...

Every species is an integral part of any ecosystem. We should never take for granted how they fit into the health of that environment. It breaks my heart to see all these species in danger...leading right up to the doorstep of the Human Species.