Wabash Blogs Immersion 2008: Everglades

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February 22, 2008

Ready to Fly

Steve Charles—Ecologist and Professor Dave Krohne is leading six of his Advanced Ecology students on a week-long trek through the mangrove islands, tropical forests, sawgrass, swamps, bays, coral reefs, and the diverse populations of migrating and native birds and wildlife found in central and southern Florida.

Juniors Jeff Austen, Phil Rushton, and Paul Schuchman and seniors Max Bader, Barton Bridge, and Torm Hustvet will be studying and taking notes of those habitats and wildlife. I’m going along to chronicle the trip in photographs, help the students share their teachable moments with you, and to overcome my fear of alligators.
We'll fly out Saturday morning and be camping out that night in the Everglades (Do alligators like tents?). We'll also camp at Highland Hammock, one of the state’s first parks and the site of an old-growth cypress swamp, and on the Florida Bay. We’ll learn to identify birds and how to observe and describe the behavior of these birds and the way they interact with each other and with different habitats. About mid-week, we’ll drive to Key Largo in the Florida Keys and do some snorkeling and observations of the coral reefs and aquatic life there.

All in temperatures in the 60s and 70s during the day — about 30 degrees warmer than the Indiana winter we’re leaving behind.

We’ll see alligators, turtles, white-tailed deer, and if we’re lucky beyond measure, the endangered black bear or Florida panther (only 50 remaining in the wild). And birds? Suffice it to say Wabash birder and math professor J.D. Phillips would be drooling over the bird list.

It’s an extraordinary opportunity to see up-close the natural abundance of an oft-overlooked part of the state many people associate with Mickey Mouse, Miami Vice, and Cape Canaveral. We’ll also witness the loss of habitat that’s driving some species to extinction, and the degradation of the coral reefs, a worldwide phenomenon.

“It’s more of a study of natural history than ecology,” Krohne says. “If we were going to do ecology, I’d take them out to Allee Woods, a place we already know well. But what this trip teaches students is what you can do as an ecologist when you go into a system you've never been to, a place you don’t know anything about.”

More after we’ve seen our first gator.

Editor's Note: Charles will be writing about the experience along with the students on the trip throughout the week.

In photo: the anhinga, a.k.a. "snakebird," or "water turkey."
Photo by Andrew Gobien for the Palm Beach County Web site
Alligator photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife