There is no doubt that Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s majestic old-growth cypress forests are a unique feature of our modern landscape, but they’re actually only a remnant of similar natural lands that were lost to agriculture and other development here in Southwest Florida.
As the human population has grown and put increased demand on our ecosystem, the natural landscape has been fragmented into sanctuaries, preserves, parks, conservation lands and other small natural areas. Sadly, resident animals must now move among habitat fragments (often crossing roads, highways, or other dangerous barriers) or make-do living within a single habitat parcel that may or may not meet their needs for survival.
Experts believe habitat fragmentation is one of the biggest threats to the loss of global biodiversity. In the 1970s and 1980s, ecologists engaged in the S.L.O.S.S. debate (an acronym for Single Large Or Several Small), focusing on whether there was greater conservation value in a single large tract of preserved land or several smaller habitat fragments. While they eventually conceded there was not a universal answer to this question, it was clear that urbanization, roads, agriculture and rural development cause habitat fragments to become “islands” and inevitably lead to species extinctions. These can range from localized extinctions (the loss of a particular species from a local area) to true species extinctions (the loss of a particular species from the planet).
Here in Southwest Florida, our natural landscape was historically a matrix of upland scrub and pine forest, wetland prairie and wetland forest. Development has targeted the habitats easiest to develop, beginning with coastal uplands and gradually extending farther east into wetter and wetter habitats. The resulting habitat fragmentation has been directly linked with population declines in numerous endangered species, including red-cockaded woodpeckers, Florida panthers, and Eastern indigo snakes.
While it is difficult to undo much of the habitat loss that has occurred, there are several things we can do to maximize the remaining natural areas here in our region. Supporting the creation of greenways allows animals to move among habitat units and keeps their populations from becoming isolated.
Similarly, controlling domesticated animals (especially cats and dogs) allows animals from natural areas to use residential areas when spreading out from or moving among natural areas. Perhaps most importantly, electing public officials who recognize the inherent ecological, spiritual and economic value of our natural lands is critical in ensuring we keep our ecosystem intact for the good of our planet and for the enjoyment of future generations.
While most visitors to Corkscrew are enchanted by the beauty of the Sanctuary, we must all be conscious of the fact that most of our resident animal populations depend on habitats outside the Sanctuary — along our roadways and quite possibly right in your own backyard.
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National Audubon Society has a 73-year continuous history of ecological research and recovery efforts in Florida and currently supports an active research program here in Southwest Florida. Audubon of Florida’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary boasts a 2.25-mile boardwalk trail open every day of the year. The Sanctuary is located at the end of Sanctuary Road, 15 miles east of Interstate 75 off Immokalee Road (exit 111). For admission fees and hours, call (239)348-9151 or visit www.corkscrew.audubon.org.