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The Everglades are a unique geologic feature, being formed as the sea bottom was exposed as ice when the Poles shrank the water away. "The limestone bottom came out as flat as a tabletop" so said one research paper that quoted an author, thus accounting for the featureless expanse of the Glades and the very slow drainage of the rivers that run southward from the Central Ridge, through Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee Valley to the floodplain. In spite of the absence of dramatic typography, the Everglades supports a complex ecology, one that is increasingly threatened by development.
The natural cycle of the Everglades alternates among the following:
- Heavy rainfall in the spring and summer - fifty inches on average annually
- Fall and winter drought.
Alligators dig gator holes which provide shelter in the dry season for a variety of wildlife. Both plants and animals have adapted to endure this time of hardship. Hurricanes traditionally ravage the area, tearing away the hummocks created by the colonizing mangrove trees. When this occurs, the sawgrass that forms the most recognizable feature of the Glades moves back into the opening. These checks and balances are delicate. The more the plants and animals have specialized to survive, the more any change to their environment threatens them with extinction. Many species which occur nowhere else than in the Everglades now face ecological disaster, as both the habitat and the inhabitants of it are affected by man.
Currently certain species are threatened in the Everglades:
- The Florida panther
- Everglade kite
- American crocodile
- Various wading birds
Hunting has decimated the panther and crocodile populations. Pesticides washed down the watershed from farms and citrus orchards have affected all wildlife, but especially the birds. Motorboats and other watercraft routinely injure or kill slow-moving manatees. For all of these creatures, the loss of habitat has been severe, as large areas have been appropriated and drained for farming or for development (Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan On-Line). Additionally, introduced species such as the casuarinas tree and Brazilian pepper have crowded out native species on which various creatures depend for food.
There is room for cautious optimism, however, about the future of the Everglades and its creatures. The Wetlands Protection Act of 1984 has limited the draining of wetlands. In the decade prior to its being passed, an estimated twenty-six thousand acres had been drained. The state game commission has enacted legislation to protect the animals from irresponsible hunting, and the populations of alligators, for example, have rebounded to the extent that they now are considered a "Low Risk, Least Concern" threatened species, although mercury levels are still of concern.