In the aftermath of last week’s devastating Hurrican Ian in Florida, we have all seen much news about the tragic destruction. I have a brief tour for you highlighting the beauty and wild creatures in this fine state.
Geologically, the Florida peninsula is a porous plateau of limestone sitting atop bedrock. The limestone is topped with sandy soils deposited over millions of years of rising and falling sea levels. Today, much of the state is at or below sea level. See topographical map at end.
Florida has the longest coastline of any contiguous state–8,436 miles (13,576 km).
The Florida Reef is the third largest coral barrier reef system in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef and the Belize Barrier Reef).
More info: Florida Wikipedia
There are many species of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles and insects in this subtropical and tropical wonderland.
You don’t have to be in Florida long to spot their state reptile, the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis).
With all that coastline, sea birds and wading birds are commonly seen throughout the state.
The Florida Keys, the state’s popular coral cay archipelago, are the southernmost part of the continental U.S. They never have freezing temperatures and tropical wildlife thrives here.
Also in southern Florida, the Everglades offer an ecosystem that is not presently found anywhere else on earth.
Several ecosystems comprise the Everglades, as shown in this diagram, below.
More info: Everglades Wikipedia
Much of the natural land of southern Florida is swamp and wetland, although decades of extensive human development have altered the natural state.
More recently, in the last few decades, scientists, citizens and environmentalists have done a lot to restore wetlands, important for many reasons. More info: Wetland Wikipedia.
Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, also in southern Florida, offers visitors a view of the Everglades ecosystem, while providing a safe preserve for the abundant life.
The sanctuary has one of the largest remaining stands of bald and pond cypress trees, seen below, in North America.
This painted bunting, one of our country’s most colorful songbirds, greeted us while there.
One year we sought and found wild Florida manatees, the state’s designated marine mammal, near Tampa on the west coast. The manatees stayed submerged, so our photos didn’t come out well.
Oddly enough, the Big Bend Power Plant has a discharge canal that is attractive to the manatees for its warm water, and the state and federal governments have designated it a manatee sanctuary.
The west coast of Florida is flanked by the Gulf of Mexico. This coast, especially in the south, is where the recent hurricane did the most damage.
Sanibel Island, shown in photos below and throughout, was severely damaged. It is inaccessible right now because the hurricane washed away the only road access.
These photos are from a few years back.
We were on Sanibel Island for a week and were frequently greeted by pods of bottle-nosed dolphins. Tursiops truncatus.
The sandy beaches of Sanibel, a barrier island, were covered every day with beautiful shells washed up from the recent tide.
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is also on Sanibel Island. It is a 5,200 acre (21 km2) preserve and wilderness area.
The east coast of Florida is approximately 500 miles of Atlantic Ocean.
Below are the white sands and warm waters of Cocoa Beach. This was a day in November, on a separate visit.
After a thoroughly exhilarating visit to the Kennedy Space Center…
… we spent several hours birding on nearby Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Channels of tannic water and mangrove trees are the perfect habitat for alligators. This one, below center, is especially long.
We were hoping to see the Florida Scrub-jay here, which would have been a life bird, but that day it proved elusive. We did, however, see many other birds.
Close to the northern border, a day at the Jacksonville Arboretum yielded one of their common woodpeckers in a tree filled with the ubiquitous Spanish moss. We do not have this woodpecker in California.
We also had an open view that day of the gopher tortoise, Florida’s designated state tortoise. Native to southeastern U.S. and a keystone species (i.e., has a disproportionately large effect on its natural environment), this Gopherus polyphemus was about the size of a small dinner plate.
That concludes our brief tour of the Sunshine State. This state of sunshine, warmth, and humidity is a troubled state this week and for years to come, after Ian’s destruction.
We hope for the best.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.