This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special
English. I'm Faith Lapidus.
I'm Doug Johnson. This week, we tell
about Everglades National Park in the American state of Florida. We also tell about an effort to improve the
condition of this important natural treasure.
When many people think of Florida, images of
sandy coastlines or theme park rides come to mind. But about an hour south of Miami lies a
natural wilderness different from anywhere else in the United States.
Everglades National Park is the
largest subtropical wilderness in the country. The park is home to several rare and
endangered species. It is also the third
largest national park in the lower forty-eight states, after Death Valley and
Yellowstone. More than one million
people visit the Everglades each year.
In nineteen forty-seven,
President Harry Truman spoke at a ceremony establishing the Everglades National
Park. He said the goal of creating the
park was to protect forever a wild area that cannot be replaced.
The Everglades is considered one of the great
biological wonders of the world. The
expansive wetlands stretch across more than six hundred thousand hectares. It is
a place where plants and animals from the Caribbean Sea share an ecosystem with
native North American species.
Nine different environments
exist within the Everglades. They
include mangrove and cypress swamps, estuaries and coastal marshes.
In the nineteen-forties, Marjory
Stoneman Douglas wrote a book called, "The Everglades: River of Grass." She described the area as, "the liquid heart
most other national parks, Everglades National Park was created to protect an ecosystem
from damage. The Everglades is home to
thirty-six species that are considered threatened or protected. They include the Florida panther, the
American crocodile and the West Indian manatee. In addition, more than three hundred fifty bird
species and three hundred species of fresh and saltwater fish live within the
park. The Everglades is also home to
forty species of mammals and fifty reptile species.
Exotic plants can also be found in the
Everglades. They include what is said to
be the largest growth of mangrove trees in the western half of the world. Gumbo-limbo trees, known for their peeling red
skin, strangler figs and royal palms are also among the area's plant life. The Everglades is also home to the country's
largest living mahogany tree. Sawgrass
grows in some areas of the park. Be
careful – it is very sharp, with teeth just like a saw. It can grow up to four meters tall.
about one and one-half meters of rainfall each year, plants and trees never
stop growing in the Everglades. That is
why it is hard to tell a powerful storm, Hurricane Andrew, caused severe damage
to the area in nineteen ninety-two.
The dry, winter season is
the favorite of most visitors, when insects like mosquitoes are less of a
problem. The rainy season lasts from
June to November. There are many ways to
explore the Everglades. Visitors could
see alligators while hiking the Anhinga Trail. The Everglades is the only place on Earth
where fresh water alligators and saltwater crocodiles live in the same area. Visitors using canoes or airboats are likely
to see large groups of wading birds like the wood stork or great blue heron. It is even possible to see flamingos in the
Some might enjoy riding bicycles through Shark
Valley, while others may want to move slowly through shallow waters where
insects and wildlife can be seen up-close. Park guides also lead visitors on tours with tram cars.
Everglades National Park launched a visitation program to what was once a highly
restricted military base. Park officials
are working to recover a missile base used in the nineteen sixties. The base played a part in the nuclear tensions
between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The government built the
Florida base shortly after the discovery of Soviet missiles about three hundred
kilometers away, on the island of Cuba. Tensions were high during the Cuban missile
crisis. But missiles stored at the American
base were never fired.
The base was closed and
all missile equipment was removed in the nineteen seventies. Today only the buildings remain.
This year, the historic area had
many visitors, including former American service members who remember the
missile crisis. The park hopes to offer
more trips next spring, to help support the history for those who lived through
it and for future generations.
Experts say changes to the Everglades are threatening
several different kinds of wildlife. They
say the threats are a result of actions the United States government began more
than fifty years ago, and settlers began even earlier.
The National Park Service
says early colonial settlers and land developers thought the Everglades had
little value. The settlers had plans to
remove water from the area and in the eighteen eighties developers began
digging drainage canals. At the time,
they did not understand the complexity of the Everglades' ecosystem. As a result, they were not prepared for all
the work and caused environmental problems. The ecosystem, however, was able to survive.
Even larger efforts to
drain the wetlands continued between nineteen oh five and nineteen ten. Large areas were changed to farmland. This led to increased development, with more
people moving to the Everglades and also more visitors.
changes came in nineteen forty-eight, when Congress approved the Central and
South Florida Project. As part of the
plan, the Army Corps of Engineers built roads, canals and water-control systems
throughout South Florida. The aim of the
project was to provide water and flood protection for developed areas and
agriculture. Workers built a huge system
of waterways and pumping stations to control the overflow of Lake Okeechobee,
north of the Everglades.
fifty percent of south Florida's early wetland areas no longer exist. Populations of wading birds have been reduced
by ninety percent. Whole populations of
animals are in danger of disappearing. The endangered creatures include the manatee, the Miami blackhead snake,
the wood stork and the Florida panther.
In recent years, environmental experts
have learned about the damage to the Everglades. They say the natural balance of plants and
animals has been destroyed.
Recently, the Obama administration
promised three hundred sixty million dollars to pay for Everglades restoration
this year. The administration is also
asking that Congress approve an additional two hundred seventy-eight million
dollars for next year.
The money will
help to support projects approved by the government nine years ago. The projects include improving wetlands in
the Picayune Strand in Southwest Florida and repairs to Lake Okeechobee's dike.
Until now, the state of Florida has
spent the most money on the project.
Another threat biologists have
been battling for years in the Everglades is the area's population of Burmese
pythons. Officials believe there are as
many as one hundred fifty thousand of these large snakes in the Everglades. But the snakes are a foreign species, native
to Southeast Asia. Owners of pythons
left their unwanted snakes in the Everglades years ago.
Biologists say adult pythons are able to eat
small deer and bobcats. When pythons are
found in the Everglades, they are often killed. Scientists are now experimenting with other
ways to remove the snakes, including trapping methods and offering payments to
The future of the Everglades is
not clear. However efforts to protect
the area are continuing so people that from all over the world may continue
visiting this biological treasure.
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS
program was written by Brianna Blake, who was also our producer. I'm Doug Johnson.
And I'm Faith Lapidus. Read and listen to our programs at
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again
next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of