The first rule of Shark Valley is don’t take selfies with the alligators. This may seem like obvious to most tourists, but Ranger Chris Littlejohn had witnessed two visitors lay down next to an alligator for the perfect photo.
Living in Miami, I had been to the Shark Valley Visitor Center before. Only 40 miles from downtown, Shark Valley is one of four visitor centers in Everglades National Park. It is hard to believe this expansive tract of the Everglades is only a short drive from the concrete jungle. Our visit to Shark Valley was an opportunity to experience the Everglades and better understand the challenges facing Everglades National Park. Although the park covers a large area of South Florida and contains much of the area we are trying to restore, they are only one stakeholder in the complex restoration efforts.
Unlike my previous visits, Ranger Chris guided us through a 15-mile trolley tour of this small part of the Everglades. During the tour we were able to see an impressive glimpse of the biodiversity that makes the Everglades a unique habitat. We were lucky enough to see Great Blue Herons, Wood Storks, Spoonbills, orchids, turtles, and various other plants and animals. It is one thing to read about the richness of the Everglades. It is another to see this impressive ecosystem in action.
The diversity in the Everglades is impressive, but we could only imagine richness of species prior to human impacts. Ranger Chris explained that the Everglades are being threatened by continued urban encroachment and the disruption of the historic southerly flow of freshwater from Lake Okeechobee. The short ride really made me appreciate the importance of Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) the challenges facing environmental leaders in this Herculean task. For more information on the CERP, please visit this site.
If you ever find yourself in south Florida, take the time to visit Shark Valley and Everglades National Park. The park reminds you what south Florida once looked like and what we are striving to restore. Just remember, save the selfies for South Beach.
Alligator smiles for the camera!