The largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, Everglades National Park protects an unparalleled landscape that provides important habitat for numerous rare and endangered species.
The Everglades is an expansive area of land in south Florida, which consists of 1.5 million acres of wetland. This one of a kind National Park, is also; a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and a specially protected wilderness area under the Cartagena Treaty. Nearly flat and surrounded on three sides by rising seas, Everglades National Park is already feeling the effects of a warming climate. Sea-level rise has brought significant changes that are being observed on the landscape, and more are sure to be seen in the years ahead.
Since the park covers such a large area of south Florida, planning is a must. There are three entrances to Everglades National Park and they are not connected, they are accessed through different areas of south Florida. The Gulf Coast Visitor Center serves as the gateway for exploring the Ten Thousand Islands, a maze of mangrove islands and waterways that extends to Flamingo and Florida Bay accessible only by boat in this region. The visitor center offers educational displays, orientation films, informational brochures, and backcountry permits.
Everglades National Park includes the largest protected mangrove forest in the northern hemisphere, the vast estuary of Florida Bay, and cultural resources chronicling approximately 10,000 years of human history.
Spanish accounts suggest that the Calusa were the dominant tribe of the region and operated a complex Chiefdom that was comprised of a number of village communities all organized within a chiefly hierarchy. Archaeologists consider this type of complex organization rare for non-agrarian societies. Calusa village communities were concentrated along the south west coast. They depended on fishing, as well as systematic foraging for sustenance. Living among the coastal mangroves of the Florida Gulf Coast, the Calusa utilized the abundance of shells around them to create their built environment. Archaeologists have identified shell mounds, which were piles of empty and discarded shells that had been used as tools after their contents were consumed. The Calusa also built shell formations. These built forms, called “shell works,” were large scale architecture which used ridges, mounds, platforms, and courtyards within their town plans. Their exact social uses are unknown, but it is likely that they were used to divide gathering places from sacred spaces and provide barriers from mosquitoes or ocean tides.
Sandfly Island in the Ten Thousand Islands Archeological District of Everglades National Park is an important cultural site currently impacted by climate change. It consists of 22 acres of prehistoric networks of earth and shell mounds – or middens – that date back to about 3,000 years. In the early 1900s, settlers had a home, tomato farm, and even a store on the island. Today nature has reclaimed most of the island, and few signs of human settlement remain. Water erosion and wind damage over the years have made parts of the Sandfly Island shoreline and its tidal creek banks collapse, further exposing the fragile archaeological site to sea-level rise and increased salinity, which can harm the artifacts. These sites allow scientists to examine human history, but the artifacts may be less useful in the future if they are washed away or too damaged to analyze.
From the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, Sandfly Island is located about a 1.5 mile paddling distance across the open waters of Chokoloskee Bay. It is a trip for experienced kayakers. Learn more about the trip from National Park Planner.
Archaeologists collect data from the shell middens
at Sandfly Island in 2012. [NPS Photo]
page information credit: content and/or imagery provided courtesy of - National Park Service
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors