Gators Everywhere

Trip Start Oct 07, 2013
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Flag of United States  , Florida
Thursday, March 13, 2014

After a bit of quiet time in Dunedin, DH was eager to get adventurous and check out another of our bucket list destinations- the Forida Everglades.

To talk about them as the Florida Everglades is somewhat redundant because they are the only Everglades in the world (UNESCO designated the Everglades as one of only three wetland areas of global importance). It is commonly referred to as a "river of grass" and although diminishing, that's exactly what it is- Sawgrass thrives in the slowly moving water. Technically the Everglades is not swampland but rather a very slow moving river with origins in the vast but shallow Lake Okeechobee, and a destination of the Gulf of Mexico. Water leaving the lake in the wet season forms a slow-moving river 60 miles wide and over 100 miles long, flowing southward. How slow?  Water leaving Lake Okeechobee may require months or years to reach its final destination.

 As Lake Okeechobee is drained to feed the water requirements of Miami and the hundreds of golf courses in South Florida, the salt water from the gulf moves further into the Everglades with Mangroves expanding, and grasslands shrinking accordingly. Florida does seem to be dedicated to trying to preserve and restore this magic area- this is one of those tests of resolve that people do not always perform well in- cost estimates range as high as $50 billion that may be required to stop the declining environmental quality. As far back as the 1850's, the tall foreheads running the state of Florida were coming up with schemes to drain the wetlands in favour of agriculture. None worked particularly well but the damage was permanent. Even today, devastating pollution from the fertilizers used on vegetables, the byproducts of the decaying soil needed for sugarcane, and the mercury from nearby power plants and incinerators have created enormous problems. Couple that with invasive plant and animal species (we'd heard about pet pythons being released into the everglades but feral cats alone number about 650 per square mile and they have devastating effects on migratory bird populations), it's hard to see a bright future for a wetland area that is somewhat taken for granted. There was even a plan as recently as the early 70's to build a gigantic new Miami airport that would have introduced 15,000,000 L of raw sewage a day and 10,000 tons of jet engine pollutants a year into the everglades (after an outcry, the idea was killed). Yikes!!
 
The critters including bottle-nosed dolphins, bald eagles, and manatees, haven't fared much better. In 1886, 5 million birds were estimated to be killed for their feathers that were used in the hatmaking business of the day. Hunting animals also went unchecked - the American crocodile was hunted to near extinction and even today remains on the 'threatened' list which means  the reptile is protected from illegal harassing, poaching or killing. Since a lot of Billy Bobs with more guns than teeth can't tell one dinosaur-like reptile from another, the protection of the crocodile has resulted in a population boom for the star attraction of the Glades- the American Alligator. On the endangered species list in 1972,there are now estimated to be 1.25 million Gators in Florida (including golf course residents). 

With those big numbers the chances of seeing one had to be good. And because DH (where the D does stand for Dangerous Diva) wanted to get as close as possible, we booked a day of kayaking through a number of mangroves and were hoping that the gators would do their part. Given that we were going to be floating in relatively flimsy plastic containers, our guide reassured us that gators were not particularly dangerous and he was only aware of one death that could be attributed to a Florida gator (after our kayak trip our own research found that alligators killed 12 people between 2001 and 2007 and in May 2006, alligators killed three Floridians in less than a week!). At times we seemed to be surrounded by gators but other than one narrow waterway that was patrolled by a gator our guide described as "belligerent", we gave and were given a respectful distance. It was a great way to get deep into the glades and we did see the distinct ecosystems and a good deal of wildlife. Highly recommended way of seeing this Wow of nature.

And you can't go into the everglades without riding on one of those iconic air boats although it seems more amusement park than genuine experience. I'm sure they have a very valid purpose for locals but their primary use these days seems to be whipping overfed tourists around a short piece of the glades scaring away just about everything within a 5 mile radius. When you have to put on earmuffs to protect your hearing, you know you're not going for a quiet paddle through a mystic environment. 

Useless facts- the first airboat, called the Ugly Duckling, was actually built in 1905 in Nova Scotia, Canada by Alexander Graham Bell- the guy who invented the telephone
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