Backstory: Swamp creatures great and small

Everglades National Park approaches a 60th anniversary of environmental protection.

The Everglades teems with the buzz, hum, and chatter of the wild as well as the quiet surprises of the camouflaged. Almost 60 years after Marjory Stoneman Douglas published her bestseller, "River of Grass," boosting public sentiment about the value of the vast swamp and helping win its approval as a national park, man and animal continue the struggle to coexist.

Everglades National Park – 2,358 square miles of Florida's watery trailing-out into the sea – is home to 350 species of birds, including the osprey and great blue heron, and a number of reptiles and amphibians, including the American crocodile and tree frog.

While recent research looks promising for the wading bird population, pollution and urban development remain problems as they encroach on the habitat of animals of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Smoke billows from nearby sugar cane factories, Ft. Lauderdale sprawls right up to the border of the park, endangered birds rest on top of highway light fixtures, and the remains of birds struck by cars pepper the side of the highway. These pressures, combined with the alteration of regional wetland areas threaten the Everglades, which functions as a vast, natural water-filtration system. The National Park Service estimates that 50 percent of south Florida's original wetlands no longer exist, and the wading bird population has been reduced by 90 percent.

What will it take to preserve the biotic engine that supports so much life in South Florida?

A slideshow of other Everglades photos can be seen at www.csmonitor.com/slideshows/2006/everglades/index.html

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