The Water World of the 3 National Parks in Florida
Wet and Wild!
Each of the three National Parks in southern Florida all has some similarities, and yet each also has some peculiarities that make each park distinctive and unique.
If you are the type of person who is drawn to the mountains, then perhaps this watery world in Florida will not be calling your name or have you making plans for a vacation visit.
However, if you are the type of person that longs to hear the relentless waves of the salty ocean waters and generally thinks of sun-kissed beaches as being the perfect type of vacation, likes studying animal and marine life then these national parks may hold even greater interest for you to explore and enjoy.
Biscayne National ParkClick thumbnail to view full-size
Biscayne National Park
Biscayne first became a national monument in 1968 but as recently as 1980 was granted national park status. The vast majority of this national park lies underwater.
Many shipwrecks lie on the sandy bottom sabotaged by the extensive coral reefs which tore them asunder causing them to remain there along with what they were transporting. Most of the treasures have been salvaged years ago by people exploring these waters and keys, but occasionally something new is discovered.
Notorious pirates like Blackbeard and Black Caesar also prowled these waters wreaking devastation upon British, French, Spanish and American ships back when each country was trying to make the most profit from the prosperous Caribbean trade.
The coral reefs are not only beautiful and in a constant state of being reconstructed by the forces of nature but importantly provide shelter and protection for many different species of sea life.
Many of the Biscayne Islands are tiny bits of watery havens consisting of some mangroves clinging to some bits of limestone and mud. Their tangled roots, the majority of which are above the water eventually have the effect of trapping debris which ultimately builds up more land mass. They become havens for fish, crabs, snails, and many bird species which roost, hunt, and live among them. The mangrove swamps provide excellent cover for immature fish and other sea creatures until they are large enough to compete in the open waters.
Some of the larger keys (islands) are Elliott and Adams where some tropical hardwood forests can be seen along with some ferns and flowers.
Sea turtles nest on some of the beaches and are protected as is much of the life under the water and on land. Exotic species of plants, birds, fish, and everything from crocodiles to green iguanas can be spotted along with different types of whales frequenting these waters.
As one can easily imagine, especially since about 95% of this national park is water, this has become a haven for boaters, people who like to snorkel and scuba dive and those who choose to explore the beaches and sites of the many keys and islands.
Some sport fishing is allowed, and one needs to be familiar with Florida's fishing laws.
Dry Tortugas National ParkClick thumbnail to view full-size
Dry Tortugas National Park
Much like the Biscayne National Park, the Dry Tortugas National Park is mostly water. While the Biscayne National Park is in the Atlantic waters on the southeast side of Florida, Biscayne National Park is in Gulf of Mexico waters on the southwest side of that state.
It became a national park in 1992 and got its name from the sea turtles who frequented those coral reefs.
Similar attractions draw people to this watery wonderland some of which include the following:
- The shipwrecks
- The sea life
- The birds who call it home
- The boating, snorkeling, and scuba diving opportunities.
A most interesting structure on Garden Key within the national park is Fort Jefferson, which is also designated a national monument. It is an immense structure composed mainly of bricks and was an active military post for approximately 70 years.
There is no fresh water on the "dry" Tortugas, so water had to be collected and filtered for human use.
The fort has not been used for many years but at one time served as a prison and also as a quarantine station. Probably the most famous prisoners ever held there were some of the conspirators in the President Lincoln assassination.
Everglades National Park
While the Everglades is also a watery abode much of it appears to be like a grassy prairie land. The grass is called saw grass, and it is rooted in the bottom of a river. It gets its name because the blades of the grass have sharp sawlike edges.
Limestone is the composition of the bedrock that underlies the Everglades, and most of it is flat but occasionally higher ridges are seen, and that is where one can spot the trees such as pines and hardwoods that rise above the grass.
Mangrove swamps are also very much a part of this landscape.
There is a wet and dry season of the year and this alternates annually and dramatically affects the wildlife found there. From May to November, the typical rains come, and the area which gets up to 60 inches of rain annually is a hot and humid environment. One can expect to experience some fierce thunderstorms during this time, and of course, it is also hurricane season.
Many fish reproduce rapidly during this wet season, and it becomes a feast of sorts for the herons and other wading birds who find it easy to satisfy their appetites as do the other animals calling the Everglades their home.
When the dry season comes, the land becomes parched, and animals tend to congregate around the smaller pools of water. It is then easier to spot the alligators, crocodiles, wading birds, snakes, raccoons and much of the other animal life.
Sometimes in the dry season, a bolt of lightning can set the saw grass on fire where it can smolder for days or even weeks. It is part of the cycle of life and new plants which are nourished by the ashes of the old rapidly rise from the water and grow.
Riding on an airboat skimming above the sea of grass in the Everglades spotting the wildlife on the rises of ground called hammocks would be an adventure not soon forgotten.
It would be so exciting to spot one of the elusive Florida panthers or some of the strikingly beautiful birds like a purple gallinule walking from one lily pad across to another.
The Everglades contain fresh water, briny water, and salt water. The diverse plant, animal, and aquatic life found there make it a unique and valuable national park and also a huge one.
Everglades National ParkClick thumbnail to view full-size
Locations of the 3 National Parks in Florida
Which of these National Parks have you visited?
Each of our national parks is a treasure! Each of them are worth exploring. It would be a daunting task to get to see all of them and I have tried to visit as many as possible.
Ken Burns does an excellent job of describing these national treasures. I have fortunately caught some television programs featuring his work.
This book would be a great guide for those planning national park visits and for those who will be unable to visit each and every one it will be enlightening as to what makes each of them special.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Peggy Woods