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Aspects of the Florida Wetlands Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 3rd, 2021

Florida wetland area is unique according to its surrounding geologic, hydrologic, and climatic conditions. These are unique habitats for different species. The Florida wetlands, it can be said that these are the key to maintaining the health of Florida’s naturally watery places. Especially, they provide flood control, aquifer recharge, coastal protection, and also help filter pollutants from the ecosystem (University of Florida n.pag). Earlier up to 2/3 of land in Florida was wetland. In over 200 years, Florida has lost an estimated 10 million acres of wetland, about half of the total area believed to have existed in the 1780’s. As of today, it is estimated that wetlands cover almost 30% of the state of Florida and account for just over 10% of the remaining wetland area in the lower 48 United States.

Though there are several well known wetlands such as the Florida Everglades, the loss have been immense over the years. These wetlands play a vital role in flood protection, water quality and wildlife habitat in Florida (Clark –217). Florida continues to have millions of acres of wetlands and wilderness where exist a number of animals. However in recent years it is noticed that some animals are missing from the Florida landscape. Extinction has occurred and the wolf, monk seal and buffalo among many others have all disappeared from Florida. The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission at present list more than 100 animals in Florida as endangered, threatened, or species of special concern. Each of these species is in danger of becoming extinct unless the harmful factors affecting their habitats cease (Splash n.pag). This paper mainly concentrates on the endangered species found in the Florida wetlands and the laws that protect the animals and wetlands.

It was estimated that major drainage of land began in the 1880’s. This, together with the increasing population in Florida in past decades after World War II, resulted in an incredible loss of wetlands. In the last 150 years or so Florida has lost more than 60% (approximately more than 12 million acres) of its wetlands. This drastic reduction in wetlands resulted in the declining fisheries in 1970’s, the “dying” of Lake Okeechobee, and saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers. A number of state and federal acts were passed in the 1970’s to better protect and manage wetlands in Florida (Natural Resources Conservation Service n.pag).

As we all know that the wetlands are highly productive because of the regular inputs such as water, sediments, and nutrients. Vegetation grows very rapidly in wetlands, producing a great deal of food for plant-eating animals especially found in these habitats and also timber for various purposes. The plant material which is not consumed by the aquatic organisms is broken down into rich organic soil as well as a substance call “detritus.” These detritus is very important as it is the main item on the menu of many aquatic animals.

It is projected that as much as 90% of the commercial and sport fish depend on the food produced in wetlands. Since the food and habitat provided by wetland plants, wetlands are very productive for a various group of animals. Wetlands serve as nursery grounds for many of the commercially important fish, shellfish, and wildlife. Numerous endangered and threatened species, like the wood stork and the Florida panther, are dependent upon wetlands for their survival. Though wetlands are most often related with waterfowl and bird species, they are very essential as they provide necessary habitat for a wide variety of species – birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects. Additionally it is estimated that up to 45% of these species are rare and endangered. The increasing rate of wetland loss has contributed to the endangered status of many species. For instance some species, such as the wood duck and muskrat, spend most of their life within wetlands, while others – striped bass, peregrine falcon and deer – occasionally visit wetlands for food, water, or shelter (University of Florida).

There are several steps taken by the government in order to prevent the extensions of endangered species. For instance, in order to raise awareness of the diverse species inhabiting the fragile environment of the world’s largest subtropical marshland — the Florida Everglades — the U.S. Postal Service dedicated the Nature of America: Southern Florida Wetland stamp pane and stamped postal cards today. The stamps and cards portray outstandingly beautiful images of 21 plants and animals found in southern Florida wetland areas (USPS Stamp News).

The subtropical wetlands of southern Florida are remnants of a great wilderness that, until a century ago, stretched unbroken, for hundreds of miles. They still include some of the most extensive saw grass marshes and mangrove swamps in the world — wetlands that support a remarkable number of species. Much of southern Florida’s natural wealth is protected in several major conservation areas, including Everglades National Park, a 1.5-million-acre wilderness preserve noted for vast marshes and mangrove swamps. The park officially opened in 1947, the same year pioneering conservationist Marjory Stoneman Douglas first published her best-selling book, The Everglades: River of Grass. The word “river” refers to the shallow body of water that slowly flows through the marshes toward the coast. The “grass” is primarily saw grass, a sharp-edged member of the sedge family.

Several Insects, like dragonflies and butterflies, thrive in the wetlands of southern Florida, along with hundreds of species of birds. Great egrets, white ibises, wood storks, roseate spoonbills and other wading birds eat fish, frogs and other small animals present in the wetland. Eagles, along with snail kites, an endangered species dependent on large, colorful apple snails for food. Cape Sable seaside sparrows, an exceptionally rare species, weave nests a few inches above the ground and survive on seeds and insects.

Other unique futures of Florida wetlands are the reptiles in the region which include the American alligator. These are typically found in marshes, swamps, ponds and other wetland areas of nine southern states. It is important to note that the American crocodile is found only in southernmost Florida, primarily in brackish and salt water areas of the Everglades and Florida Keys. The Florida panther, one of the rarest animals, is a long-tailed cat reaching more than six feet in length. It preys on deer and smaller animals found in elevated areas. Another long-tailed mammal, the Everglades mink, inhabits freshwater shores and has a diet that includes birds, rodents, frogs and fish.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), habitat conditions during the non-breeding period affect waterfowl survival and reproduction in following years. For instance, Ducks and geese need to preserve or improve their body condition during winter to prevent death during the spring migration and to meet the physiological demands of the nesting season. Today due to the awareness created, the FWC’s waterfowl staff particularly devotes their substantial resources to monitoring and managing these migrant birds and providing quality habitat for them in Florida.

Wetland habitat management in Florida is significant to providing the utmost quantity and maximum quality of habitat possible to support Florida’s waterfowl and other wetland-dependent wildlife. The significance of conserving quality habitat for wildlife is essential. Without a good habitat place such as the breeding, migration, and wintering areas, waterfowl populations will decrease in spite of any attempt to limit sport harvest. Wetland habitat management has importance beyond its value to waterfowl by having significance on many other Florida plant and wildlife species (MyFWC.com n.pag).

The coastal wetlands in Florida are nursery areas for economically valuable fish and shellfish such as shrimp, redfish, trout, snook, and crabs. Over 2/3 of the commercially important fish and shellfish species in Florida depend on wetlands at some point in their life cycles. Wetlands throughout other state are habitat for threatened and endangered species like black bears, bald eagles, manatees, panthers, and pitcher plants.

Measures to control the rate of human-induced extinctions in the U.S. date back to the Lacey Act in 1900. This Act was passed in response to the threatened extinction of the carrier pigeon. Later in 1966, Congress passed the Endangered Species Preservation Act, which established the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Act was an attempt to preserve endangered vertebrates such as mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles by establishing habitat refuges and prohibiting the taking of such animals on these lands.

As the years passed by it was noticed that the rate of extinction only increased and this resulted in the passage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973. The ESA is of primary importance to Florida’s forestry community and the ultimate goal of this Act is to conserve threatened and endangered plant and animal species by listing species in this condition and then improving their status until they can be considered safe from extinctions. As a today about 16 species have been removed from the list since the Act’s passage. At present, Florida has over 100 plant and animal species listed as either threatened or endangered and another 256 species are candidates for protection in Florida under the ESA (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission).

Protecting the present wetlands is another way to conserve the unique plants and animals from disappearance. Erosion control structures can stabilize the targeted shoreline, but may increase erosion off-shore and on adjacent shorelines. Construction activities in the water also may cause the suspension of sediments, which can use up dissolved oxygen (causing fish kills), reduce light diffusion through the water column, and cover living organisms when it settles out (killing plants, fish eggs, and coral). Microorganisms mediate nutrient cycling in ecosystems, particularly in the wetlands. Any modifications in the environment will likely alter their biogeochemical function (McLatchey and Reddy, 1268–1274). Consequently, microorganisms have been proposed as early indicators of wetland change (Adamus et al., n.pag). Fro instance, studies found that within a single plant community in Florida (i.e., Cladium) nutrient impact increased soil and detrital ergosterol and detrital bacterial counts, and decreased AM fungal colonization (Grierson and Adams, 1817–1827; Hackney et al., 666–670).

Added to these the hydrologic alterations, such as damming or channelizing streams, can also do a great deal of harm to wetlands. These changes can destroy wetlands by accumulation too much water, removing too much water, changing the pattern of materials imported into or exported from the wetland, or changing the incidence and duration of irregular water levels that are required by certain types of wetlands. The distorted flow patterns can also concentrate pollutants, cause erosion, cause sedimentation, and reduce valuable shallow water habitats (dep.state.fl.us 1-10).

Florida’s wetlands are seriously damaged by agricultural, urban, and other human activities. This effect can be easily seen in several subtropical freshwater wetlands in Florida, especially in the Everglades. Given the environmental and political interest in these wetlands, there is urgent need for a centralized repository and mechanism to share geospatial data, information and maps of Florida’s wetlands and adjacent agricultural ecosystems.

Several Acts help the conservation of endangered species such as the Florida Endangered and Threatened Species Act of 1977. However, this Act includes no specific prohibitions or penalties, but does establish the conservation and wise management of endangered and threatened species as State policy. Secondly the Endangered Species Protection Act prohibits the intentional wounding or killing of any fish or wildlife species selected by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission as “endangered”, “threatened” or of “special concern”. This prohibition also extends to the intentional destruction of the nests of any such species. The protection of endangered, threatened, or “commercially exploited” plants is addressed in the Preservation of Native Flora of Florida Act. This act includes several prohibitions covering the “willful destroying or harvesting” of such plants, but also contains an freedom for agricultural and silvicultural activities.

In conclusion, as we know that wetlands are very sensitive ecological regions, any alterations can have a great impact on the microorganisms, aquatic organisms, and other organisms. Given all the benefits of wetlands, it is important that we recognize what kinds of activities threaten these important areas, and ultimately, all of us. It is therefore very essential for government to formulate policies that will benefit in long term and reduce the burden on environment particularly in the wetlands in Florida. Since Florida wetlands support a wide range of rare and endangered aquatic plants and wildlife, and humans have relied on these wetlands as a source of food and recreation for centuries, conservation is essential.

Work Cited

  1. Adamus, P., Danielson, T.J., Gonyaw, A. Indicators for Monitoring Biological Integrity of Inland Freshwater Wetlands—A Survey of North American Technical Literature (1990–2000). USEPA Office of Water, Wetlands Division (4502F), EPA 843-R-01-Fall, (2001) Washington, DC.
  2. Clark, M. Florida Wetlands: Extension Web Site, SL217, 2007.
  3. , 2007. Web.
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  5. Grierson, P.F., Adams, M.A. Plant species affect acid phosphatase, ergosterol and microbial P in a Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata Donn ex Sm.) forest in south-western Australia. Soil Biol. Biochem. 32, (2000) 1817–1827.
  6. Hackney, C.T., Padgett, D.E., Posey, M.H., Fungal and bacterial contributions to the decomposition of Cladium and Typha leaves in nutrient enriched and nutrient poor areas of the Everglades, with a note on ergosterol concentrations in Everglades soils. Mycol. Res. 104, (2000). 666–670.
  7. McLatchey, G.P., Reddy, K.R.,. Regulation of organic matter decomposition and nutrient release in a wetland soil. J. Environ. Qual. 27, (1998) 1268–1274.
  8. MyFWC.com Wetland Habitat Conservation (1999).
  9. Natural Resources Conservation Service Fact sheet: Why Florida’s Wetlands are Important (2004)
  10. 2007. Web.
  11. University of Florida Wetlands Plant Management in Florida Waters (2003).
  12. USPS Stamp News Unique, Rare and Endangered Species of Florida Everglades Highlighted On Stamps.
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