The Consequences of Invasive Species in the Florida Everglades

invasive speciesThe Florida Everglades have long been a popular tourist destination for visitors from around the United States and around the world. It is easy to see why so many people make this a must see place on their “bucket lists” since it is a unique, one of a kind landscape that gives you access to an incredibly diverse and sensitive environment. The Everglades is a wilderness preserve like no other, allowing visitors a chance to experience flora and fauna that can’t be seen many (if any) other place on earth.

However, there has been consequences from urbanization and tourism. As population has grown, the Everglades have been encroached upon more and more. Some of the swamps were drained to make way for residential, commercial, or industrial complexes as the nearby cities demanded more jobs and places to live. Now, thankfully, what remains of the Everglades is protected and kept as safe as possible from further encroachment or pollution.

It isn’t just people that have been trying to worm their way into the Everglades and snuff out the native species that once thrived there. Foreign plants and animals, often referred to as invasive species, pose, perhaps, an even graver threat to the health of the ecosystem than humans do, though they would never have been a problem had it not been for humans.

When we began to trade further and further from our own shores, with those goods we asked for, came things we didn’t. As trade expanded, new plants and animals that hitch rides across the sea via trade cargo boats, landed on the shores and began to take over, as they didn’t face the native predators in this new place that they did at home. Many of these species quickly took advantage of their new environment and spread rapidly and aggressively.

A lot of the native plants and animals are specialists, which means they require a pretty stable and exact ecosystem to thrive or even survive. As invasive species have made their way into sensitive areas like the Everglades, the native plants find their nutrients and food sources dwindling and can often not compete with the foreign invaders. It often doesn’t even take very long for these invaders to almost completely push out the native flora and fauna, leaving behind a very different landscape.

It is for this reason that there are such staunch rules about the importation of plants and animals from abroad. It is helpful to be cognizant of this problem if you plan to visit the Everglades and it is advised that you take steps, especially if you are visiting internationally, to ensure that you do not bring any potentially harmful spores, seeds, or bugs to the sensitive landscape.

Looking to explore the Everglades? Go for a ride in an airboat tour with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours. Here, you’ll be able to see both the native and invasive species up close. To book a tour, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Everglades Invasive Species: Australian Pine

Australian PineThere are around 18,000 plants native to North America. These plants provide food, fiber, and habitats that people and wildlife depend on. Unfortunately, many invasive (non-native species) plants have become a threat to the native plants and are the second greatest threat (next to humans) to them. Many of these invasive plants have found their way into the Everglades. The Park staff work throughout the year to remove these plants whenever they can in order to protect the natural habitat. One of these invasive species is the Australian Pine (Casuarina equisetifolia).They have invaded thousands of acres in southern Florida.

The Australian Pine, as you may have guessed, is native to Australia, but also to Malaysia and southern parts of Asia. This plant came to Florida in the late 1800s and was used for ditch and canal stabilization, along with for its shade and lumber.

This tree is tall and can grow up to 100 feet or more. Its needles have a soft appearance and it produced small, oval cones. This tree grows fast and can provide thick shade to an area. Its leaves and fruit completely cover the ground under it. The checmicals from the leaves and keep other plants from growing in that area. Because its roots can produce nitrogen, it can grow well even in soil that is poor. However once it is growing, it can change the light, temperature, and soil of the beach habitats because it displaces native species and destroys the natural habitat for wildlife and insects. Because of these shallow roots, they tend to topple over during storms and high winds, which can cause hazards. Since it does not have thick of shallow roots, it helps contribute to beach and dune erosion, which negatively affects the ways sea turtles and alligators nest.  By displacing deep-rooted native plants, beaches are more prone to erosion.  They also provide little to no habitat for the wildlife in the area.

As of right now, manual removal of seedlings and saplings is recommended. If there is a heavier infestation of the Australian pine, a systemic type of herbicide is applied to bark, stumps, or foliage. Planned fires also are used when able. They are resistant to salt spray.

Visit the Everglades

If you’d like to help with the removal of invasive species, contact the Everglades National Park service and see what you can do to help. Many times, if you spot a plant in the Everglades that you think is invasive, you can notify a park ranger and they will look into it. While you’re visiting the Everglades, explore the area even more on an airboat tour. Call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here to book a tour today.

The Nile Crocodile in the Everglades

Nile CrocodileThe Burmese python is well-known to be an invasive species in the Florida Everglades; however, there seems to be another major invasive reptile in the wetland: The Nile crocodile. Yes, the Everglades are full of crocodiles, but they’re native to America. These Nile crocodiles come from Africa. But, how did these crocs make their way across the Atlantic Ocean? And, how they end up swimming around the Everglades? That is the big question.

A University of Florida herpetologist said he isn’t sure how they got into the wild over here, because they certainly didn’t swim from Africa. Nile crocs have been captured in the Everglades in 2009, 2011, and 2014. After reports from locals about strange looking alligators, this scientist and his colleagues captured and tested the crocs. After some DNA testing was done, it was determined these crocodiles are Nile crocodiles, and the three were probably related to each other. However, they were not matched to any of the Nile crocs in any of Florida’s licensed Florida attractions, including Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

What does this mean? Well, these crocs could have been brought over to the area illegally by an unlicensed reptile collector. The crocs could have escaped or have been let go. The crocs found were believed to have escaped from Predator World, and that no one released them but they escaped, according to officials at the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The male Nile croc can grow to be more than 16 feet long and weigh more than 1,600 pounds. They have a bronze/brown/yellow coloring. They are much larger and more aggressive than the American crocodile or American alligator. If this crocodile begins to grow in numbers in the Everglades, it will do harm to the area’s ecosystem. The Everglades is a perfect place for this croc to survive in. Since one of the three captured was captured before and escaped, this proved these crocs can live and survive in Florida for many years and they can grow and populate quickly. Cross-breeding between the American crocodile and the Nile crocodile could create larger crocs in the area, which could endanger the smaller breads of crocodiles and the purity of the American breed.

As of right now, Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission officials aren’t worried, and believe they have captured all the Nile crocodiles in the area, since there have been no other confirmed sightings and no unaccounted for captive animals. These officials conduct regular routine inspections and surveys to look out for exotic and invasive species.  The agency also doesn’t believe these crocs mated with any native crocs in their time in the wild, because of dissimilar habitat and behavior.

Explore the Everglades
Despite being home to crocodiles, especially one’s native to the area, the Everglades is a safe place for humans to explore (with caution and regulations in place, of course). A great way to explore the crocodile’s habitat is with an airboat tour. Contact Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours here or call 800-368-0065 to book a tour today.

Lionfish in the Everglades

lionfishEver heard of the lionfish? It’s actually quite a pretty fish with its pectoral fins, brownish stripes; however, it’s not so good for the Everglades. It’s considered an invasive species. Invasive species, non-native species to an area, happen to have the ability to live and thrive in habitats that are not their true home or region. Lionfish haven’t been a huge problem yet in the Everglades, but their numbers are increasing each year. In 2014, 13 lionfish were removed from Everglades National Park.

Although the numbers of lionfish aren’t large yet in the Park, there is a growing abundance of them in nearby waters. It is believed more and more will show up in the area. Currently, there is the “Everglades and Dry Tortugas Lionfish Management Plan” in review that will target specific areas within each park to help suppress lionfish from entering.

The lionfish is native to Indo-Pacific waters. It is a venomous, predatory fish that was introduce to the Atlantic waters around the 1980s. It is believed this fish made its way here either through aquarium trade or through ballast water on international boats. These lionfish can live in water anywhere from 1 to 1,000 feet in mangroves, seagrass, coral, hard bottom, and artificial reefs.

It is believed they could have a real big impact on the marine ecosystems here in south Florida. Their presence will decrease the number of native and commercial species. Although it doesn’t happen often, their stings are also known to be painful and can lead to serious injury.

Here are some ways lionfish are bad for the Everglades: they feed primarily on larvai and juvenile fish, they eat and consume a great variety of fishes and crustaceans, and they also eat herbivorous fish that graze on algae.  With this behavior, the number of fish will dwindle, there will be less fish in the water and less fish for other predators to eat; also with more algae around, it can overgrow and keep coral and sponges from growing and thriving.

Right now, the lionfish is the only known invasive marine fish recognized at having invaded the entire Caribbean and coastal waters around southeastern United States. These fish are slow moving and easy to capture. Netting and spearing is usually used to capture them.

Take a Ride through the Everglades

If you’re in the Everglades and spot a lionfish, you should report the sighting to the National Park by calling 305-809-4738 or 305-562-0820. One way you might spot this invasive fish is on an airboat tour with Captain Mitch. Wouldn’t it be exciting to be the one to spot the creature who is harming the precious ecosystem you’re currently riding in? To book a tour, all Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377 or click here.

The Dangers of Non-Native Species in the Everglades

burmese python

The Burmese python is non-native to the Everglades.

While the Everglades are home to hundreds, if not thousands, of unique species of birds, reptiles, fish, mammals, and insects, not every creature that inhabits the area today can say that they’ve always called this area “home.” Some have found there way here accidentally, while others were brought here due to human intervention, and while introducing non-native species can be beneficial in certain instances, in others, it can spiral quickly out of control.

Many non-native species in Florida and other parts of the world have become so commonplace and blend in so well with the natural ecosystem, that many natives to the area don’t even realize they are in the presence of relative newcomers. Others make their presence known fiercely, eradicating those who stand in their path and causing horrific and permanent impacts to the original ecosystem. While scientists can attempt to predict the results of such introductions and avoid any negative consequences, nature is at heart unpredictable.

Though no one can predict the results of introducing non-native species to new environments, it is the result of human involvement in nearly all instances. There are generally five major reasons why non-native species are introduced intentionally:

  1. To make money – Most commonly, the introduction of non-native species has economic motivations. Fish have been introduced as sources of food, mammals as sources of fur, and even trees as sources of lumber.
  2. To remind people of home – Though not so much the case in present day, in the past some species were brought along with immigrants as they started lives in new places. Though the intentions were often innocent, the effects could be detrimental.
  3. To look nice – Sometimes species are brought to new places for reasons as simple as their aesthetic appeal. This is more often the case with plants, which are sometimes transported for decorative purposes.
  4. To provide sport – This is more often the case with fish, for example, when brown trout were brought over to America from England. In some instances, the introduction of a single non-native species can bring both financial and recreational gains.
  5. To solve problems – In modern times, this is why invasive species are most commonly introduced – with good intentions and to solve a current economic or ecologic problem. For instance, one such invasive species that poses a particular threat in South Florida, the cane toad, was initially introduced to control sugar cane beetle populations that were decimating crops.

It’s important to remember that while you can pinpoint various reasons for intentional release of non-native species, not all instances involve intentional release. Furthermore, because the original source can be so difficult to pinpoint, it can be difficult to truly know whether release was accidental or not. A good example is the Burmese python, another invasive species that can be found throughout the Everglades. While there is much speculation, it is actually unclear whether the Burmese python explosion in South Florida was the result of the snakes finding their way onto ships headed from Asia to Miami or simply the result of locals releasing their unwanted pets into the wild.

Fortunately, the Florida Everglades has many beautiful and unique native species that still call the area “home.” These include American alligators, flamingoes, and the Florida panther, just to name a few. To view any of these magnificent animals in their natural habitats, as well as possibly one or two species that don’t belong, take an airboat ride through the Everglades with Captain Mitch. Florida swampland tours were meant to be enjoyed by the entire family, and offer plenty of educational opportunities as well as entertainment.