The Fakahatchee Strand
Information Credit: Florida State Parks
The Fakahatchee Strand is a linear swamp forest, approximately twenty miles long by five miles wide and oriented from north to south. It has been sculpted by the movement of water for thousands of years and clean fresh water is the key to its existence. Beneath a protective canopy of bald cypress trees flows a slow moving, shallow river or slough that is warmer than the ambient temperature in the winter and cooler in the summer. The buffering effect of the slough and the deeper lakes that punctuate it shield the forest interior from extreme cold temperatures and this fosters a high level of rare and endangered tropical plant species.
The Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park hosts a wide array of habitats and forest types from the wetter swamps and prairies to the drier islands of tropical hardwood hammocks and pine rock lands. Its groves of native royal palms are the most abundant in the state. The ecosystem of the Fakahatchee Strand is the only place in the world where bald cypress trees and royal palms share the forest canopy. It is the orchid and bromeliad capital of the continent with 44 native orchids and 14 native bromeliad species. Florida panthers still pursue white-tailed deer from the uplands across the wetlands. Florida black bears and Eastern indigo snakes, Everglades minks and diamondback terrapins can still be found here. The resident and migratory bird life is spectacular and attracts many enthusiastic visitors.
Changes on an ecosystem-wide level are predicted to occur within the Fakahatchee Strand over the coming decades as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is implemented. The restoration of the Prairie Canal which defines the western border of the Preserve is an especially important aspect of CERP. For almost half a century the Prairie Canal has hastened the drainage of water that the native plant and animal communities of the Fakahatchee Strand depend upon. Once the Prairie Canal is completely filled in, the surface water will move across the landscape, draining slowly instead of poring into bigger canals and gushing into the estuaries of the 10,000 Islands. It will recharge groundwater and pass through the natural filtration processes of swamps, prairies, marshes and mangroves before gradually mixing with salt water. It is and will continue to be an important source of fresh water for human and natural communities.
The southern portion of the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve is a part of one of the most productive estuarine ecosystems in the world. Beneath the surface, where fresh water gradually becomes more saline, ideal conditions exist for spawning and the development of the fry of commercially and recreationally important fish species. Rookeries of wading birds color the landscape with dots of white, blue and pink. Canoeists and kayakers enjoy exploring amidst the scenic beauty. Anglers ply the mangrove-hugged backwaters for snook, snapper, tarpon and redfish. West Indian manatees float about in slow motion while American crocodiles carry on their secretive existence, slipping in and out of the of the tannic water to bask in the sun. On the coastal keys of the Ten Thousand Islands, loggerhead and green sea turtles return annually to nest on the same spits of white sand beach from which they themselves once emerged.
Croc image credit: NPS