National Geographic : 1972 Jan
The Imperiled Everglades really is. In some places we know it is at least a foot and a half below sea level." "This place is unlike other national parks," Bill Robertson added. "The Everglades is a living system dependent on water-the right quality of water, in the right quantities, at the right season. The park, though, is at the lower end of a 'river,' and we have little con trol over what happens north of us. When too much water is diverted to other uses, the park suffers droughts. When too much water is diverted into the park, the ecological con sequences-to nesting wood storks, for ex ample-can be equally serious. "Continuing reduction of wetlands ac centuates the problem. Everglades water must be managed in an ever-decreasing area, and more violent fluctuations of water levels become inevitable. In 1970-71 we went from land standing under several feet of water to dry soil in six months." A few days later I toured the park with Dr. Frank Craighead, Sr., a noted ecologist (next page). On our first stop we left the car to walk to a gator hole. Suddenly, Dr. Craig head broke into a run and dove at the ground. "I missed it," he lamented. Then I saw the five-foot indigo snake slide over the crest bor dering the hole. I studied in admiration the wiry 81-year-old man, whose strong features bore the imprint of many outdoor years. As we drove toward Flamingo, he told me: "When I first came to the Everglades, in 1917, I was tremendously impressed by the lush growth here. Huge trees in the ham mocks were festooned with bromeliads and orchids. It wasn't until I returned to live here in 1950 that I fully realized the damage caused by drainage and development. "Even so, I could still take my canoe out almost anywhere in those days-and I would see alligators everywhere. I estimated a population of about two million in 1950. I believe that poaching and the lack of water have now decreased that number by 98 or 99 percent." It took no expert to see how dry the park was. At Shark River Slough ranger station, the water hole was crammed with fish that had died for lack of oxygen as the water level dropped (pages 12-13). "Many life systems in the park couldn't exist if it were completely isolated," said Dr. Craighead. "If development continues right up to the boundaries, conditions within will be so altered that I don't see how the wild life can survive." Other worried conservationists, led by author Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who wrote the popular classic Everglades, River of Grass, have formed a group called Friends of the Everglades. "We're trying to convince people that the future of all south Florida and the park depends on new, intelligent management of water," she explains. "Without that, south Florida will be a desert. Much of the Big Cypress must be controlled by government. Overdrainage, more canals, land loss, water pollution, salt intrusion, fires, bad land man agement, must be stopped. Perhaps we still have time." Pristine Wellspring of Park Endangered At Big Cypress, in the heart of southwest Florida, more than half a million acres hold a primitive world. Huge cypresses, some cen turies old, shelter quiet waters where alli gators glide by like shadows. Still a home of the Seminole Indians,* it is the place that has firmly planted in the American mind the image of south Florida-and is currently the key to the salvation of the Everglades. *Louis Capron wrote of "Florida's Emerging Semi noles," in the November 1969 GEOGRAPHIC, and "Flor ida's 'Wild' Indians, the Seminole," in the December 1956 issue. Smoke became a way of life for weeks last spring on eastern Florida's heavily popu lated "Gold Coast." When winds drove the acrid haze over Miami, respiratory ailments rose. In recent years such fires have become more frequent and damaging.