Everglade National Park

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Chapter 4. ECOLOGICAL CRITERIA

(Guidelines and Criteria Section B/ Ecological Criteria) Nominated areas must conform to at least one of the eight ecological criteria. Describe how the nominated site satisfies one or more of the following criteria. (Attach in Annex any relevant supporting documents.)

Representativeness:


As seen in the attached certified species list, the park includes many species and habitats representative of those found elsewhere in the Wider Caribbean. These include, but are not limited to, seagrass (turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum), manatee grass (syrigodium filiforme), shoal grass (Halodule wrightii), and wigeongrass (Ruppia maritima)), mangroves (red (Rhizophora mangle), black (Avicennia germinans), and white (Laguncularia racemosa)), marine reptiles (4 species of sea turtles), marine mammals (bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)), and tropical reef fish (yellowtail snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus), stoplight parrotfish (Sparisoma viride) and great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)) .

Conservation value:


As a national park of the USA, this area exists to conserve the wetland/estuarine/marine ecosystems and the populations of flora and fauna present in them. Hunting is illegal in Everglades National Park and Federal law (36 CFR 7.45) gives the Park Superintendent the authority to regulate and/or prohibit human activities such as boating, fishing, and access to sensitive areas that would harm or interfere with ecological communities

Rarity:


Everglades National Park and the greater Everglades ecosystem are the only places in the world where the alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) exist side by side. The Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi or Puma concolor couguar) is an endangered subspecies of cougar (Puma concolor) that lives in forests and swamps of southern Florida, including Everglades National Park. This population, the only unequivocal cougar representative in the eastern United States, currently occupies 5% of its historic range.

Naturalness:


Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, the United States Congress designated the majority of the park as a formal wilderness area in 1978. This designation affords roughly 86% of the park the highest level of legal protection possible. The Wilderness Act clearly articulates the intended purpose of designated wilderness and bestows a legal responsibility on managers to maintain the wild, primeval nature of such areas. The act identifies a suite of uses that are generally incompatible with the purposes of wilderness. Prohibited uses include :
-a) the landing of aircraft;
-b) the use of motorized equipment or motorboats;
-c) the construction or installation of structures or equipment;
-d) the use of motor vehicles;
-e) the use of mechanized transport (bicycles, wheelbarrows); and
-f) permanent or temporary roads. Scientific researchers working in wilderness areas are required to use only the minimum activity necessary. For example, the term “minimum activity” signifies the least intrusive tool, equipment, device, force, regulation, or practice that will achieve the project objective. When determining the minimum activity necessary, the potential disruption of wilderness resources and character is given substantially more weight than economic efficiency and convenience.

Critical habitats:


The prop roots of the mangroves along the park’s shoreline provide substrate for encrusting organisms and protection for juvenile marine species. The abundant seagrass meadows of Florida Bay provide food and shelter for a vast number of mollusks, crustaceans, fish, and the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus). Manatees are herbivores that feed opportunistically on a wide variety of marine, estuarine, and freshwater plants, including submerged, floating, and emergent vegetation. Common forage plants include but are not limited to: cord grass, alga, turtle grass, shoal grass, manatee grass, all common throughout the park. Crustacean larvae of the Caribbean/ Florida spiny lobster (Panularis argus) settle in shallow nearshore areas among seagrass and algae beds of Florida Bay. Pink shrimp (Farfantepenaeus duorarum) spawn offshore of the Dry Tortugas to the south and the larvae migrate into Florida Bay, where they settle as juveniles before returning to offshore coral reefs later in their life cycle.

Diversity:


As cited earlier, Everglades National Park has significant species richness and is home to 36 threatened or protected species, 350 species of birds, 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish, 40 species of mammals, and 50 species of reptiles

Connectivity/coherence:


Nowhere is connectivity more important and studied than in the south Florida ecosystem. As has been highlighted throughout, freshwater from Lake Okeechobee and rivers slowly flow southward through the wetlands of the Florida Everglades. This freshwater flows through the mangroves along the Everglades shoreline, forming the estuarine areas of the park’s Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay. The water of Florida Bay flows through the passes in the Florida Keys, entering the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (a 2010 SPAW site) and presumably north in the Gulf Steam or westward to the Wider Caribbean. The quantity, quality, timing, and distribution are critical to the ecological processes of all of these areas. It is also thought that larvae originating elsewhere in the Caribbean (e.g., spiny lobster (Panularis argus) are brought to the Florida Keys and Florida Bay by currents where they begin a critical stage of their lives. Much of the restoration of the Greater Everglades is focusing on connectivity – both hydrologic flow and ecological function.

Resilience:


Due to the park’s geographic location and climate, the threat of fires caused by lightning strikes and disturbance due to hurricanes is commonplace. The river of grass is perpetuated by fire. For thousands of years, lightning strikes ignited fires in the sawgrass prairies. Sawgrass fires actually improve the passage of water through the slough or shallow river basin, by burning back grass that would otherwise impede the vital flow of water through the Everglades. Fire not only improves habitat for wildlife by creating a mosaic pattern of vegetation, but also helps reduce large accumulation of fuels near hammocks or tree islands, which harbor a wide variety of birds and subtropical plants that are less tolerant of fire. Outlining the west coast of the Everglades are miles of mangrove forests. Interwoven within the mangrove forests are salt marshes and coastal prairies. Fires are mostly started in coastal prairies by lightning and burn hundreds of acres at a time. Because of the inaccessibility to this area, coastal prairie fires do not pose a threat to any human life or property and are permitted to burn under close monitoring. Allowing the fires to burn prevents the encroachment of mangroves and exotic plant species into the fresh water prairies, and thus maintains a diverse natural ecosystem.

Hurricanes are a natural disaster that historically plays an important role in controlling evasive species and overgrowth. The most dramatic effect of the hurricanes passing through wetlands is normally major structural damage to trees caused by the strong winds. However, it has been observed that surviving trees and shrubs sprout new growth rather quickly (within a month). Historically, hurricanes appear to have little effect on wildlife in the Everglades.

In the marine environment, the major effects of the hurricane are normally changes in nearshore water quality, patches of intense bottom scouring, and beach overwash. Changes in water quality in the form of increased nutrients, sedimentation, and phytoplankton blooms lead to increased turbidity and, combined with low dissolvedoxygen concentrations, can have severe effects on fish and invertebrate populations. These changes are usually short-term and populations have historically rebounded back to their baseline levels.