What are the Everglades?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Everglades are an extensive network of marshes that cover the southern tip of Florida from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico. The US government has set aside 2,354 square miles (6,097 square kilometers) as a national park, and the site as a whole has undergone extensive restoration efforts in an attempt to repair human-generated damage. Visitors to Florida often make time to visit this unique ecosystem, and numerous tour companies offer tours and other programs geared to visitors.

Manatees live in the Everglades.
Manatees live in the Everglades.

While the Everglades are often described as a subtropical swamp, they are quite diverse. In addition to classic swampland, the region also includes areas of raised ground known as hammocks, stretches of grassy prairie, pine and cypress forests, and slough areas, where the standing water is deep enough to form pools. This diverse area is also very interconnected, and what happens in one region can profoundly impact another.

Crocodiles live in the Everglades.
Crocodiles live in the Everglades.

This ecoregion hosts a wide variety of plants and animals, including the Florida panther, osprey, alligators, egrets, herons, crocodiles, sawgrass, manatees, snapping turtles, palms, live oak, and palmettos. Water is critical to the health of the Everglades, with the area acting as a drainage basin for the state of Florida and collecting water from the storms and hurricanes commonly seen in the region.

Native Americans lived in and around the Everglades for centuries. When Europeans began colonizing the region, however, they started clearing and draining vast swaths of the marshes, creating large breaks in this extensive network of wetlands. As a result, Florida became more prone to flooding, because the flood-control aspect of the Everglades was interrupted, and the biological diversity of the region also declined, since many animals found themselves homeless.

In the 1970s, conservation started to be a major issue around the world, and the Everglades became a cause celebre. Organizations from all over the world lobbied to restore the region, and the United States government began to sink funds into restoring Everglades National Park, which had existed since 1934, along with the surrounding area. This ecoregion is still in recovery, and it is still threatened by agricultural, commercial, and residential development in Florida.

Preserving the Everglades is not just about retaining an aesthetically pleasing area. By restoring these wetlands, the government could mitigate flooding in Florida and reduce storm damage by providing a buffer zone. Biodiversity is also viewed as ecologically valuable, especially since some of the animals native to the marshes are found nowhere else in the world.

The Everglades are often described as a subtropical swamp.
The Everglades are often described as a subtropical swamp.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


The Florida manatee is amazing and I would love to see one in its natural habitat. They are supposed to be the biggest of all the different kinds of manatees and dugongs.

I have seen them in the Atlanta Aquarium, where they get taken sometimes if they have been injured and cannot live in the wild anymore.

But I've heard that around the everglades in Florida there are places where you can swim with the manatees and see them grazing in the river.

I hope that these interesting animals don't go extinct like the river dolphins in China.


When I was visiting Florida with my father we were lucky enough to go on a short tour of Okefenokee swamp tour. It was based around looking for Everglades alligators.

We were in an airboat, with another family (who drove my father crazy because they kept letting their kids dangle their hands outside the boat) and it was around two hours long I think.

It was so beautiful, which I didn't expect. We went through huge patches of waterlilies, with little frogs jumping everywhere. We saw some snakes, and a lot of everglades water birds, which I really enjoyed.

And of course, we managed to see some alligators as well. We saw a mother on her nest, and another big one in the water.

It was an amazing experience and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to see another side of Florida.

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