Environment Planet Earth Explore Everglades National Park, One of the Most Resilient Ecosystems on Earth By Katherine Gallagher Katherine Gallagher Writer Chapman University Katherine Gallagher is a writer and sustainability expert. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Chapman University and a Sustainable Tourism certificate from the GSTC. Learn about our editorial process Published October 27, 2021 Share Twitter Pinterest Email Jaimie Tuchman / Getty Images Planet Earth Outdoors Weather Conservation Everglades National Park covers over 1.5 million acres of wetlands in South Florida, providing significant habitats for some of the state’s most elusive and endangered species, like the West Indian manatee, the American crocodile, and the Florida panther. The park is a haven filled with coastal mangroves, essential for preventing erosion and absorbing storm surges during Florida's famous hurricanes, as well as sawgrass marshes and miniature islands of pine trees and hardwoods. Despite its federal protection as a national park, the Everglades face consistent threats from surrounding urban development, pollution, and invasive species. Everglades National Park Contains One of the Largest Wetlands in the World Jupiterimages / Getty Images The Florida Everglades are made up of subtropical wetlands that receive most of their water from rainfall and freshwater systems near the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee. Everglades’ freshwater slough ecosystem channels water through the park and remains completely flooded almost year-round—the current moves about 100 feet per day. The Everglades aren’t solely a freshwater wetland, however, as over one-third of the park is made up of marine and estuarine systems. The Park Sees Almost 60 Inches of Rain Per Year Most of the park’s annual average rainfall takes place during the summer season from mid-May to November, when temperatures range into the low 90s. Due to the trapped heat and humidity, thunderstorms are not uncommon, sometimes occurring almost daily and lasting from a few minutes to several hours. Because of its location on the southern tip of Florida, Everglades National Park is also one of the most active hurricane regions in the country. The Region Was First Inhabited in 1000 BC Prior to the arrival of Spanish explorers in the early 16th century, the area that would eventually become Everglades National Park was largely inhabited by the Calusa people. By the 1700s, a majority of the Calusa population had succumbed to diseases brought by settlers, leaving behind many traces of their society including shell tools, carved wood, and canoe trails. The Everglades went on to survive draining efforts by early colonizers in the 1800s and coastal development in the 1900s, before raising attention from conservationists like the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Some of the Park’s Mammal Species Have Adapted to the Semi-Aquatic Environment 6381380 / Getty Images There are over 40 types of mammals living inside Everglades National Park, many of which are species usually associated with drier habitats such as forests and fields. These animals have adapted over time to thrive in the park’s semi-aquatic environment, foraging in the sawgrass prairie and the mangroves in search of their next meal. The marsh rabbit is sometimes seen swimming in the higher freshwater marshes and coastal prairies, while white-tailed deer tend to grow smaller as they have no need for the extra layer of fat to protect them in winter. Everglades National Park Has an Invasive Species Problem Non-native and invasive species have remained a huge threat to the South Florida environment—and the Everglades are no exception. Exotic fish with a competitive advantage over native species fill habitats and steal resources, while invasive melaleuca trees grow taller than the ecosystem can handle and shade out indigenous plants. Burmese pythons have established a large population in the park as well, causing a 99.3% loss in raccoons, 98.9% loss in opossums, and 87.5% loss in bobcats between 1997 and 2015. In response, the South Florida Natural Resources Center of Everglades National Park has created both invasive plant and invasive animal programs to raise awareness and create more balance inside the park. The Park Is an Important Breeding Site for Tropical Wading Birds Michael Siluk / Getty Images At least 16 different species of wading birds live in the park, including the white ibis, who prefers crayfish over fish, and the wood stork, which came off the endangered species list in June 2014. Some other common wading birds are the green-backed heron, great blue heron, glossy ibis, and the roseate spoonbill. It’s Home to the Largest Contiguous Stand of Protected Mangroves in the Western Hemisphere Douglas Sacha / Getty Images Mangrove forests feature several species of salt-tolerant trees with long, dense roots that are able to survive the harsh growing conditions of the South Florida coast. The mangroves in the Everglades range from red to black to white and thrive in tidal waters where freshwater meets saltwater. Mangroves serve as habitats and nurseries for a variety of the park’s important marine species, provide wading birds with areas to feed and nest during the dry months, and protect the coastline from strong winds and storm surges during hurricane season. Everglades National Park Has Earned International Accolades Everglades National Park is a place of international importance, earning a spot on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites in 1979 and the Ramsar Convention list of Wetlands of International Importance in 1987. It was also designated as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, a limited list of just over 500 sites that serve as protected samples of the world’s major ecosystem types. At Least 22 Endangered and 16 Threatened Species Live Inside the Park Reinhard Dirscherl / Getty Images There are 22 endangered and 16 threatened species of plants and animals that live in Everglades National Park and are protected by the Endangered Species Act. Many of these species, such as the West Indian manatee, the American crocodile, and the Florida leafwing butterfly, have critical habitats inside the park. Additionally, about 180 plant and animal species in Everglades are listed by the state of Florida as threatened, endangered, species of special concern, or commercially exploited. Everglades Is the Largest Federally Protected Wilderness Area in the Eastern United States Aside from being one of the world’s largest wetlands, Everglades also boasts some of the largest protected areas in the National Wilderness Preservation System east of the Rocky Mountains. Known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness (named for the conservationist largely responsible for preserving the Everglades), the federally designated wilderness spans 1.3 million acres in Everglades National Park. View Article Sources "Ecosystems: Freshwater Slough." National Park Service. "Weather." National Park Service. "People." National Park Service. "Mammals." National Park Service. "How Have Invasive Pythons Impacted Florida Ecosystems?" United States Geological Survey. "Birds." National Park Service. "Threatened and Endangered Species." National Park Service. "Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness." National Park Service.