The largest sub-tropical wilderness reserve in North America

15 November 2010 | Fact sheet

Everglades National Park, USA

Background

Everglades National Park, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, boasts rare and endangered species. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, is an International Biosphere Reserve and a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. The exceptional variety of Everglades’ water habitats has made it a sanctuary for a large number of birds and reptiles and a refuge for over 20 rare, endangered, and threatened species. These include the Florida panther, snail kite, alligator, crocodile, and manatee. The park provides important foraging and breeding habitat for more than 400 species of birds, it is the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in North America and is a major corridor for migration.

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Size and location

The park is on the southern tip of the Florida peninsula, along the Gulf of Mexico, State of Florida, USA  and covers 592,920 ha

Flora and fauna

The geography of Everglades National Park places it at the confluence of temperate North America and the tropical Caribbean. It is the largest designated sub-tropical wilderness reserve on the North American continent and contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie and the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in North America. Its fresh and brackish water, shallow bays and deeper coastal waters creates a complex of habitats supporting a high diversity of flora and fauna, a mixture of subtropical and temperate wildlife species found nowhere else in the United States and is an important habitat for a number of endemic and legally protected species.

The park with its mixture of land and water serves as the perfect habitat for a number of amphibious species. Frogs and toads are particularly conspicuous. With more than 350 different species of birds sighted, it has always been associated with birds. Sixteen species of wading birds live in the Everglades. The white ibis and the green-backed heron are the most common, the wood stork, a larger wading bird is considered endangered. Other wading birds include the great white heron, great blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, tri-colored heron, little blue heron, cattle egret, reddish egret, black-crowned night heron, yellow-crowned night heron, least bittern, glossy ibis, and the very colorful roseate spoonbill.
 
During the turn of the 20th century, the number of birds plummeted under pressure from both the plume trade and the alteration of the south Florida landscape. In fact, protecting this dwindling population was a major catalyst for the establishment of the national park. Though the effort to restore the historic bird populations has been slow, Everglades National Park remains a popular destination for bird enthusiasts from around the world as it is one of the best destinations for easily observing great concentrations of many diverse species.

Nearly 300 different species of fish are known to inhabit the freshwater marshes and marine coastline of Everglades National Park, and from the time of the earliest occupation of the Everglades, fish have served as an important staple for locals. To the recreational angler, the Everglades have become a world-class destination for the pursuit of immense sport fish. And the productive estuaries of the area continue to drive commercial harvesting operations outside the park.

More than 40 species of mammals inhabit Everglades National Park. Many species commonly associated with drier habitats of forest and fields have adapted to the semi-aquatic environment that constitutes much of the Everglades. It is not uncommon to see white-tailed deer bobcats. There is only one representative of the rabbit family frequently found in the park. The marsh rabbit is common in higher fresh water marshes, pinelands, and coastal prairies. Cottontails do occur in the park, but are very uncommon. Raccoons and opossums are common creatures to most habitats. These creatures are omnivores and their diets vary, although the raccoon prefers turtle eggs and small aquatic animals. The opossum is the only marsupial animal in the Everglades. The gray fox is most frequently seen near hardwood hammocks and can climb trees, especially leaning trees. Streamlined river otters are commonly observed in the spring at the Anhinga Trail and Shark Valley. Otters, like all plants and animals in national parks, are protected. White-tailed deer are the same as those found throughout the eastern United States, but are smaller. More than 50 distinct kinds of reptiles inhabit the park ranging from the American crocodile to the diminutive green anole.

Threats

Geology, water quality, fire, and weather are but a few of the many natural factors that help shape the development of the Everglades landscape. Still, the actions of humans also have a strong influence. The introduction of non-native species, disruptive water management actions, and the disturbance of natural processes have all worked to undermine the integrity of the historic ecosystem. In 2010, the Everglades National Park was added to the World Heritage Danger List upon request by the USA. It had previously been on this List from 1993 until 2007 because of the large amount of water diverted from the Park to nearby cities, which dried out the wetland habitats and caused a 90% drop in the population of wetland birds.