Friday, 1 May 2015

Everglades wetland research park, Ten thousand islands and Airboating - Florida Day 5

Day 5 of our trip saw us visit the Everglades Wetland Research Park , Ten Thousand Islands Wildlife Refuge and take a ride on an airboat.

Everglades Wetland Research Park
The Title slide of Prof. Jan Vymazal lecture

Built in 2012 as a teaching and research facility for FGCU it is led by none other than Prof. WILLIAM MITSCH (William J. Mitsch author of the textbook ‘Wetlands’ and considered to be the worlds top wetland scientist). But if two top wetland scientist wasn't enough (our very own Prof. Chris Freeman being included) what about a third? or 4th?  

Yes we were also lucky enough to meet Prof. Jan Vymazal, an authority on constructed wetlands and Prof. Maciej Zalewski an ecohydrologist.

Prof. Zalewski gave us a short presentation on the importance of hydrology for the entire environment and how it is the common driving factor for all ecology. He concluded his presentation by pressing the need for environmental policies to protect water and not contradict agricultural policy. His concluding remarks are definitely i agree with and have become more aware of this last year as i have become more informed about agricultural and environmental policies in the UK.

Jan, was visiting the wetland research park for a number of reasons but before he concluded his trip to return to the Czech Republic he gave us a lecture on ‘Plants Used in constructed treatment wetlands’

I was very excited to hear Jan speak as earlier in the year i had written a paper on constructed wetlands and had read a lot of his literature.

Jan Started by covering the roles and importance of plants in constructed wetlands both above water, below water and below ground before moving onto how they aid the treatment processes within constructed wetlands. He then covered the adaptations of wetland plants, such as aerenchyma, that allow them to survive conditions that are deadly to most.

He then moved onto to describe the types of wetland plants (free floating,rooted floating leave,submerged and emergent plants) giving examples of different constructed wetlands around the world that used each type along with their strengths and weaknesses.

Top left to right - Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) nesting on a shipping sign,
A number of birds resting on a rapidly 
disappearing sand bank.
Bottom - Dolphins 
(Tursiops truncatus) seen from the boat tour.
Ten thousand islands

After our visit to the Everglades wetland research park we headed south into the everglades national park to visit ten thousand islands wildlife refuge. Ten thousand islands is a 35,000 acre coastal refuge which as the name suggests, has an intricate network of islands, mostly dominated by mangrove species with a few higher islands having upland species.

We took a boat tour around the refuge in order to see as much of it as possible. The two highlights of the boat trip for me were firstly, being able to see Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in their natural environment, even if they had other things on their mind if you get my drift… and being able to get extremely close to a nesting Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) atop one of the shipping signs because it had become accustomed to the presence of boats.

Left top to bottom - Alice and I enjoying our trip on the airboat, the airboat
 before we left the jetty.
Right top to bottom - The Sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) of the everglades,
Roseate (Platalea ajaja) spoonbill that was disturbed by our arrival,
Myself holding a baby Alligator 
(Alligator mississippiensis) .
Air boating

Our last part of the day was filled by something that was absolutely brilliant!
On our way back to the field station we stopped to take an airboat tour of some of the everglades where the sawgrass river gives way to the mangrove swamps.

It was loud, it was windy, its was fast, occasionally wet and absolutely fantastic. Not only was it a bit of thrill it was nice to be able to see parts of the everglades habitats that would otherwise be inaccessible.  

It also allowed me to get a bit closer to an Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) then i would of liked as while we were stopped it surfaced within reach of me! When we approached the end of our ride we also got the chance to see an osprey successfully hunt just 8-10 meters in front of the boat.

Finally we concluded the day by being able to ‘cuddle’ a baby alligator inside the airboat gift shop.

The Journey home left time for some interesting debate on the usefulness and impact of air boats. The main argument for them was that it allowed many people, most importantly researchers, to access parts of the everglades otherwise unreachable for a fraction of the price of other alternatives (Hovercraft). While against, there is no doubt its disturbing to the wildlife in the area, the noise from the small block V8’s on the boats we had just been on was deafening.

My opinion? I think a balance needs to be found between the two. They are vital for research and even though tourism is less vital its harder to promote the conservation of ecosystems like the everglades if people can't see why they need conserving for themselves. 

Below are some videos from our trip on the airboats to try and convey a sense of what its like, hope you enjoy!

Species List


Common Name
Latin Name
Anhinga anhinga
Double Breasted Cormorant
Phalacrocorax auritus
Pandion haliaetus
Royal Tern
Thalasseus maximus
Roseate Spoonbill
Platalea ajaja
White Pelican
Pelecanus onocrotalus


Common Name
Latin Name
Slash Pine
Pinus elliottii
Cladium jamaicense
Red Mangrove
Rhizophora mangle
Black Mangrove
Avicennia germinans
White Mangrove
Laguncularia racemosa

Common Name
Latin Name
Alligator mississippiensis

Common Name
Latin Name
Bottlenose Dolphin
Tursiops truncatus

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