The Everglades’ Seagrass is Disappearing

seagrassYou might know that there’s a lot of seagrass around Florida and throughout the Everglades.; there’s 7 kinds of seagrass in Florida to be exact. But, did you know that this seagrass is dying? Much of the beautiful green, flowering seagrasses in the waters of the Everglades are turning brown and dying off. Last year, National Park Service researchers discovered a 40,000-acre section of seagrass in Florida Bay that is dying. Seagrass provides food and shelter for many different species for marine life, while also maintaining water quality. If this grass dies off, animals, fish, and even humans will be impacted negatively.

Why is the seagrass dying? There are a few reasons that attribute to the decline in this grass. Human development over the past 100 years has disrupted the natural flow of water in the Everglades. Between roads and homes, the ecosystem has been altered, which has resulted in declines in plant and animal life. Another cause of the seagrass’s decline is climate change. Climate change is causing the sea level to rise, which has increased the salinity of the water. Many droughts throughout the years have also caused stress on the seagrass.

In Florida Bay, sport fishing is popular and is a billion-dollar business, which will be disturbed if the seagrass continues to disappear.

The only way to combat this die off is through the work of restoration efforts in the Everglades to restore the natural flow of fresh water. Florida Bay, like most of the Everglades, needs fresh water to flow north to south from Lake Okeechobee to thrive and survive.

If the seagrass dies, not only will it take away a food and shelter source for many creatures, it will begin to release nutrients that will feed into algae blooms, which will take over the water and basically suffocate any remaining seagrass in the water as they have become blocked from the sunlight.

And it isn’t just the Everglades, seagrass decline is a world-wide problem. Since the late 1800s, seagrass has declined by 29 percent.

Right now, restoration efforts are being done to lift up 2.5 miles of the Tamiami Trail that is blocking the natural water flow southward. It is believed if this road is lifted, the water flow will return to its original state. This is set to be completed by 2020.

The Everglades is a delegate ecosystem; the seagrass produces oxygen and is a food and shelter source for so many livening organisms. It helps keep the water clean by trapping sediments, as well. If you’re interested in seeing this vital plant and the rest of the majestic Everglades, a great way to explore is on an airboat. Join Captain Mitch on an airboat tour! He’s been bringing people around the Everglades for decades. It’s an experience you’re sure to never forget. To book an airboat trip, click here or call 800-368-0065.


Everglades Orchids: Beauty in the Wetland

Ghost OrchidOrchids are quite an exotic flower, so it’s no surprise that they can be found in one of the most mystical places in the world: The Everglades. Seeing these Everglades orchids is like finding beauty in an unexpected place, since the area widely known for its green and swampy colorings. According to the National Park Service, the diversity of orchids in the Everglades is higher than any other National Park in the United States.

Orchids have the largest variety within their family of flowers, and they all vary in color and size. They are also a really old species of plant; there are fossils of orchids and orchid pollen showing that they have existed on the planet for around 100 million years.  It is believed that many of the Everglades orchids originated from the West Indies from winds blowing seeds.

Types Everglades Orchids

Thirty-nine orchid species live in the Everglades. All of them have different months in which they bloom. Some types include: grass pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus), longclaw orchid (Eltroplectis calcarata), butterfly orchid (Encyclia tampensis), clamshell orchid (Prosthechea cochleata var. triandra) and the ghost orchid (Polyriihiza lindenii).

The longclaw orchid is a tropical species; it is very small and its flower is white in color with green and brown-spotted leaves. It is found often alongside streams. The butterfly orchid sprouts a bunch of small, yellow-petal flowers off from grass-like, green leaves; they are often found in trees. The grass pink orchid has small flower that range in color from white to pink or a mix of both with a few green grass-like leaves on each plant; each plant can have up to 10 flowers on it. The clamshell orchid has a dark-colored flower with white and yellow colors in the inside of flower. Underneath the flower, thin, green tepals hang down. The ghost orchid is a leafless orchid with one, somewhat large white flower.

Orchid Habitats

Where can these colorful orchids be found? Being a warm and humid climate, many of the orchid species live on trees in the Everglades. These orchids are considered to be epiphytic plants that take nutrients from the air, rain and other debris around it; they do not harm the plant they are growing on. Orchids can be found on the trunks of pop ash, live oak, royal palm, cypress pond apple trees, and wet prairies and roadsides.

Saving the Orchids

Due to climate change and human interference, the Everglades have been suffering. Rising sea levels, years of dredging, population increases and development have compromised the environment and size of the Everglades.  Not only is their habitat decreasing in size, but Everglades orchids have been threatened by visitors in the park for quite some time. For many years, collectors and tourists would pick the plants for a collection or to sell, according to the National Park Service. The orchids were overharvested. The Park Service says it is believed at least three orchid species became extinct within the park due to over picking; rare species were often chosen to bring home for their value. Now, the collection of orchids, and all plant and wildlife, in the Everglades is prohibited. Several biologists have made it their mission now to save endangered orchids, like the cigar orchid. By bringing seeds of the plant to a greenhouse and transporting plants, biologists are helping restore the in the wetland area.

Seeing the Everglades Orchids

For a chance at spotting some of rare and stunning Everglades orchids, an airboat tour is a great way to travel around different plant life that the orchids can be growing on. The airboats give people the chance to enter parts of the Everglades not accessibly by foot. To check out the orchids and hundreds of other plants in the Everglades, book an airboat ride today!