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3 Spooky Everglades Mysteries

Many scary stories have come from all over Florida, and quite a few involve the Everglades. There are sightings of ghosts that aren’t pretty orchids, and disappearances as mysterious as the Skunk Ape. In honor of Halloween, here are some of the strange mysteries associated with the Florida Everglades.

The Lost Patrol, Bermuda Triangle victims?

There have been some aircraft that have vanished over the Everglades. In 1945, a group of five naval planes took off from Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station for a training mission. All five Grumman Avenger TBM Torpedo bombers lost radio contact and disappeared. Over the years, the wreckage of old military planes has been found in the Everglades. But to date, no trace of Flight 19 has been found, which helped to popularize the legend of the Bermuda Triangle.

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The Everglades Ghost Ship

Centuries ago, pirates terrorized the seas from the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean, attacking merchant ships. One such attack involved a pirate ship overtaking a merchant vessel off the Florida coast. The chase angered the pirate captain so much that he made the merchant crew walk the plank and made their captain’s wife watch.

Before her turn to walk she cursed all pirates, and suddenly rough waves pushed the pirate ship deep into the Everglades. The story goes that the cursed ship and the ghosts of its crew wander the swamps and marshes to this day!

The Ghosts of Flight 401

In December of 1972, an Eastern Airlines flight bound for New York crashed into the Everglades after taking off from Miami. The crash was likely caused when the autopilot was accidentally shut off by a while investigating a burned out indicator light. In the years after the tragic crash, sightings were reported of ghostly-looking men on Eastern flights.

The descriptions given of the men sounded very similar to those of the captain and flight engineer of Flight 401. Rumor has it that Eastern Airlines installed good parts from the wrecked plane into other planes in their fleet.

Bermuda Triangle and pirate ghosts aside, the Everglades itself holds a great sense of mystery. It’s this mystery that gives weight to the stories and legends born here. But when you take an airboat ride at Mack’s Fish Camp, there’s nothing to be scared of. It’s just the side Florida very few people get to see.


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The Benefits and Dangers of Fire in the Everglades

As we reach the end of the Everglades wet season, there’s much to look forward to. Cooler temperatures and decreased rainfall will drive out the mosquitoes and invite migratory and wading birds back to the marshes. But the return of the dry air also brings with it the increased potential of fire in the Everglades.

The 2017 dry season saw some of the most wildfires in years. The state of Florida has had over 2,000 fires so far this year, with 125 fires burning an estimated 31,000 acres through April. The fire in the Everglades was so bad in April that it came right to the doorstep of Mack’s Fish Camp! Thankfully, through the efforts of the Department of Forestry, our historic family home was spared from the encroaching blaze!

Everglades Fires: Friend or Foe?

Despite the hazards fires pose to animal and human Florida residents alike, they can also be beneficial to Everglades ecosystems. For many years, fire in the Everglades has come from lightning strikes and humans. The health of the different Everglades plant species in them relies on the extreme differences between the two seasons here. Just as the summer rains revive the Florida wetlands, fire in the Everglades helps plant life thrive.

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How fire affects different Everglades habitats

The Pine Rocklands habitat has a need for fire that is two-fold. Hammock species of plants that grow there can block sunlight, which can harm smaller plants and even the taller pines. Fires can help clear overgrowth to let all plants thrive, and the extreme heat helps pines seed the ground.

The trees of the Pinelands are very fire-resistant because of their thick bark. The hardwood hammock can withstand fire somewhat, because they sit on wet soil and are very humid. Fires that occur in the coastal prairies are usually started by lightning , and prevent exotic plant encroachment toward freshwater marshes.

The Wet Prairie and Sawgrass Marsh

The habitats where fire is the most vital are the wet prairie and sawgrass marsh. The Everglades is a river, and the main sheet flow moves through these habitats, and is improved by the reduction of sawgrass. Sawgrass fires also burn off flammable plants near tree islands and hardwood hammocks, which are more vulnerable to fire.

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Because of its destructive potential to people and the environment, fire in the Everglades can be quickly written off as a monster. State officials and fire departments keep watch over and fight fires across the state, protecting buildings and the environment alike from them. But fire can also be beneficial to this ecosystem, especially when used in prescribed burns by these officials.

The complexity of the Florida Everglades ecology is a lot to explain, but beautiful to see firsthand on airboat ride. At Mack’s Fish Camp, you can learn about these diverse environments while seeing them up close.


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5 Everglades Fish You Can Encounter on a Fishing Charter

It’s no secret that South Florida is a haven for saltwater and freshwater fish alike. But, many people are surprised to find out that the River of Grass is flush with fish! Yes, the Florida Everglades has some of the best bass fishing in America. When you set off on our bass fishing guide service at Mack’s Fish Camp, there are many other fish you could see! Here’s some info on some species of Everglades fish.

Bowfin

A long, stout fish, bowfins are strong fighters, and have been known to snatch lures from unsuspecting anglers! They have long dorsal fins and rounded tailfins. At first glance, they can be mistaken for a bullseye snakehead fish.

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Largemouth Bass

The largemouth bass is the most popular game fish in North America. They’re also the state freshwater fish of Florida, and with good reason. These bass are found statewide, and are found near vegetation. A big catch for a largemouth bass in Florida starts around 24 inches long and weigh 8 pounds!

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Florida Gar

This long, torpedo-shaped fish is generally not considered a game fish. But it’s aggressive eating habits can offer a good fight. Its long snout and thick, armored scales give the Florida Gar an almost prehistoric look. It also breathes through gills and an air bladder, and must surface periodically for air.

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Channel Catfish

Identified by their whisker-like barbells and forked tail, channel catfish are the most –fished catfish species in America. They are a popular catch for food, and are attracted to strong odors. Shrimp or other commercial stink baits are recommended for them.

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Tarpon

A very popular sport fish in South Florida, tarpon are found in both saltwater and freshwater habitats. When it’s not quite warm yet in during spring, tarpon are very abundant in the Everglades, especially the younger ones. They can grow quite large, weighing over 200 pounds!

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How weather conditions affect Everglades fish

The Everglades dry season (December though April) often leads to extended periods of drought, and lower water levels. While this can concentrate fish in gator holes, sloughs, and canals, it leaves them exposed to predators in marshes. Their numbers are replenished and more abundant during the flooding of the Everglades wet season, though much less concentrated.

The fish in the Everglades are vital to this ecosystem. They are a primary food source for alligators, birds, and larger fish. Fish also help manage Everglades insect populations. Whether you explore on our bass guide service or just take an Everglades tour on an airboat, you’re sure to see plenty of them!


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Experience Summer Adventure Year-Round in the Florida Everglades

There are plenty of reasons why South Florida is a popular travel destination. The gorgeous beaches and lively nightlife make visitors balk at the theme parks just over the horizon. A big factor for many tourists is the abundance of warm, sunny weather that seems to last all year. There’s only one experience in South Florida that’s as unique as the climate here: taking an Everglades tour!

Seasons in the Everglades

It definitely feels like summer in Florida for most of the year. But, the Everglades doesn’t really have a summer, or even four distinct seasons, just two! There is the wet season, which lasts from May through November, and the dry season, lasting from December through May. During the Everglades wet season, the Florida wetlands are replenished by heavy rains, and alligators nest and hatch their young. The dry season is defined by little rainfall, and peak activity of several species of Everglades birds like herons and egrets.

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Egret chicks

When is the Best time to Visit the Everglades?

The best time to take an Everglades tour can be a matter of preference. The dry season offers cooler temperatures, and the lower water levels and bird nesting concentrate Everglades wildlife into smaller areas. But many tourists visit South Florida at this time, and it gets very busy. During the wet season there are fewer crowds, but also higher temperatures and frequent rain.

Despite there being only two seasons in the Everglades, there are transition periods between them. Starting in October, a noticeable shift starts to occur, the rains become less frequent, and the heat is less intense. Also, a decrease in humidity brings a decrease in pesky, biting mosquitoes!

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The Everglades wet season can get too hot for some, and the dry season can bring too many people. But, maybe there’s a time of year that’s just right for you. Miami in the fall doesn’t see the leaves changing colors, but the license plates start to! So before the holidays take a bite out of your budget, and snowbirds start arriving from across America and beyond, consider taking an Everglades tour in Miami this fall at Mack’s Fish Camp.


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5 (Debunked) Alligator Myths

Of all the many animals that live in the Florida Everglades, none are as iconic as the American alligator. Second only to the nesting wading birds of the dry season, alligators are the most popular species of Everglades wildlife. You can learn much about them on alligator tours at Mack’s Fish Camp. But for now, we’d like to clear up a few alligator myths.

Myth #1 – Alligators are slow

Alligators are mostly seen as either floating in water, laying about, or casually walking across a gold course. But, don’t be fooled. Because alligators are ambush predators, they rely on quick bursts of speed to catch their prey. Though not fast, alligators are capable of moving at 10-15 miles per hour from a standing position. In the water, they can swim nearly twice as fast because of their muscular tails!

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Myth # 2 – Alligators are at the top of the Everglades Food Web

While they definitely close to it, the American alligator doesn’t sit at the top of the Everglades food web. The Burmese python, an exotic invasive species, is now the apex predator of the Everglades, and preys on alligators. Of the alligator myths listed, we wish this one was true, as Burmese pythons have become a significant threat to Everglades wildlife.

Myth # 3 – Alligators are vicious

Intimidating as they look, alligators aren’t bloodthirsty. Their cousins the crocodile, particularly Nile crocodiles, are known as aggressive potential man-eaters. Alligators are quite shy, and try to avoid humans. But, they can become aggressive if you’re near their nest, or if they have been fed by people. Feeding alligators makes them associate people with food, so if you encounter a wild alligator, don’t feed it!

Myth # 4 – Gators can’t climb

Again, that seemingly lazy log with eyes shouldn’t be underestimated. Young alligators are more agile, but adult alligators are very strong and muscular. Adult alligators rely on a combination of their sharp claws and long tails to climb trees and even fences! They can use this ability to pursue prey up trees, though they prefer to “work smart, not hard” and wait under the tree.

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Myth # 5 – Alligators can’t survive without warm weather

Alligators are reptiles, and not only are they cold-blooded, they can’t regulate their body temperature on their own. The Florida Everglades is perfect for them, because alligators thrive in temperatures between 82 and 92 degrees. However, every so often the Everglades is within reach of cold winter weather, but alligators are ready for it. When faced with temperatures of 55 degrees or lower, alligators go into a dormant state, slowing their heartbeat to 1 to 2 beats per minute!

Alligators are amazing and powerful creatures, so it’s easy to fall victim to some of these alligator myths. But with a good balance of curiosity and skepticism, you can discover the truth about these awesome animals. The alligator tours at Mack’s Fish Camp let you see them up close in their natural habitat. You’ll also learn more about alligators and also the Everglades ecosystem from Florida Gladesmen that have lived alongside them for generations.


Hurricane Irma Update

Just two weeks ago, much of Florida witnessed the power of mother nature when Hurricane Irma made its landfall. Despite being spared the widespread devastation seen by the Florida Keys, South Florida took its licks, too. However, Mack’s Fish Camp is still standing!

As of this past weekend, we finally have power back, but have still been offering airboat rides during the outage. Not only were we still standing, but up and running as well. That’s right, we have still been running private airboat tours and offering our bass fishing guide service in the Everglades. In fact, our airboats have made for formidable leaf blowers, helping us with clearing much of the foliage.

Like much of South Florida, our trees sustained the heaviest damage. But our old structures are still intact, including our home, for which we are very grateful. Looking at the devastation experienced by people in Texas and the Keys, we feel blessed to still have our home and each other.

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Trees fallen on power pole near the camp.

No storm can take down Gladesmen Culture

As a family of Gladesmen, we thrive in times like these through our toughness, tenacity, and a bond that no wind can uproot! But as a small, family-owned business, Mack’s has stayed alive through word-of-mouth, and we sure could use some now.

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Gladesmen tree removal, at your service!

We took a hit with this storm. So, now we’re looking to you: our friends, family, and fans, to spread the word about this little piece of heaven we call home. Recommend us to a friend who’s never seen the Everglades, or bring them out here with you for an airboat ride.

Or even if you’re just curious to see the result of the awesome power of nature against its otherwise calm beauty, come pay us a visit. Rest assured that as long as the Florida Everglades are around, you can bet us Gladesmen will be, too!


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Wildlife Profile: Spiders in the Everglades

Spiders probably aren’t the first animal that comes to mind when you think of the Florida Everglades. But they are among the most abundant of Everglades wildlife, with 20,000 spiders for each of the 2 million acres here. Most of them go about their business unseen, and many are too small to be seen!

Spiders in the Everglades can be found hiding in the underbrush or are easily spotted by the webs they make in trees. Spiders are arachnids, not insects, so they all have eight legs instead of six, no antennae, and their bodies are divided into segments.

As scary as they look to some people, most spiders aren’t a threat to us, and only some are venomous. In fact, spiders are a cherished part of the Everglades food web, feeding on nuisance insects. Here are some species of spider you may spot on an Everglades tour at Mack’s Fish Camp.

Banana Spiders

Banana spiders are the species you’re most likely to see when you visit the Everglades. While the males are smaller and more dark-colored, the more colorful females measure three inches long, and are among the biggest spiders in North America.

These spiders are a type of orbweaver, and spin large circular webs to catch prey. A female’s web is made of golden silk similar to its color, and is three feet long. They feed on insects of all sizes, from mosquitoes to dragonflies. Banana spiders aren’t aggressive, and their bite isn’t harmful to humans.

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Banana Spider

Fishing Spider (dolomedes triton)

This aquatic spider species spends nearly all of its time floating on or near water. In fact, fishing spiders can walk on the water’s surface and even dive underwater to catch prey. They hunt insects, tadpoles, even fish by sensing vibrations in the water, and then eat on dry land. Fishing spiders are dark gray to brown-colored, with two pale lines running the length of their bodies. Because the Everglades is a mostly aquatic ecosystem, fishing spiders are right at home in the sawgrass marshes and wet prairies.

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Fishing Spider

Red Widow

The red widow spider is a venomous spider with an orange-red body and a black abdomen with red spots. They’re fairly large, reaching 1.5 inches in length. Unlike its cousin, the black widow, it hasn’t been known to have ever bitten a person. However, they are known to have very potent venom. Red widows are endemic to Florida, found in the pine scrubs and pine rocklands. They make their nests in saw and scrub palmetto plants, and feed on large insects like crickets.

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Red Widow

Brown Recluse

The brown recluse is one of the most venomous spiders in the Everglades, with venom as strong as the black widow’s. These quarter-sized arachnids not only make their webs, but seek out prey on the ground, such as cockroaches. Brown recluse spiders are not aggressive, and reports of them biting humans are rare.  But they will bite if pressed up against someone’s skin, by leaning into one or when putting on clothing.  Although, the strength of their bite varies, it can cause skin damage, loss of limb, and death.

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Brown Recluse

Crab Spiders

These small spiders are named for how they move by scuttling sideways, as a crab would. Most species are dark grey to black to camouflage themselves. Other species are brightly colored to hide inside flowers, wait to ambush their prey. Crab spiders do not spin webs to catch or wrap their prey, but feed immediately after attacking.

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Crab Spider

Spot Everglades Wildlife on an Airboat Ride

Spiders in the Everglades serve their role in this ecosystem, no matter how frightening of beautiful you might find them. On a private airboat tour at Mack’s Fish Camp, you’ll get to see them and many other Everglades wildlife species.


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5 Ways Hurricanes Can Affect Everglades Wildlife

The arrival of September means the beginning of the end of summer. But for Florida, and several other southern states, it signifies the peak of Atlantic Hurricane season. Hurricane season lasts from June 1st until December 1st, with the most activity usually occurring between late August and mid-October.

Because Florida is a narrow peninsula, The Everglades can feel the effects of a direct hit by a hurricane. Unfortunately, the Everglades wildlife and ecosystem can feel the brunt of the storm as strongly as humans can.

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Hardwood hammock

Heavy Rains Can Cause Freshwater Floods

Large amounts of rainfall from hurricanes can flood river basins near coastal areas. The excess water carried along these watersheds could surge into saltwater estuaries. This can offset the balance of saltwater and freshwater, and hurt the ecosystem of the coastal Everglades habitat.

Saltwater Intrusion Caused by Storm Surge

Hurricane winds can be so strong that they cause coastal water to surge far past the shoreline. Along with the flooding damage, the saltwater carried inland can harm freshwater wetland areas. Plants and animals aren’t as salt-tolerant in freshwater marshes and estuaries, and can suffer damage if the seawater doesn’t drain quickly.

High Windspeeds Can Destroy Tree Habitats

Everglades wildlife have specific niches in the diverse habitats here. Powerful hurricane winds can damage hammocks and forests, which not only destroys the animals’ homes, but their food as well. The potent wind gusts can strip berries and nuts from trees.

Storm Winds Can Dislocate Wildlife

The powerful wind fields contained in hurricanes can push birds hundreds of miles off course and far away from their habitats. Some birds get trapped inside the eye of these tropical cyclones, and held there by the extreme winds until it dissipates. Marine mammals like manatees can be blown onshore, too.

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Sawgrass marsh

Rough Seas and Storm Winds Harm Marine Wildlife

Storm surge, combined with the rough seas caused by strong winds, are a direct threat to aquatic life. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew killed 182 million fish in the Everglades basin, and nearly 10 million more fish in the waters offshore of Louisiana.

As harsh as Mother Nature can seem to the creatures that live in the Florida Everglades. But, understand that these animals were here long before people, and have adapted to endure all kinds of peril. Taking an airboat eco tour lets you see the varieties of Everglades wildlife that thrive here, much like the tradition of Gladesmen Culture that has been here for generations.


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Tips to Spot Everglades Wildlife on an Airboat Tour

The Florida Everglades is filled with an impressive variety of wildlife, including birds, reptiles, and even mammals. You may spot many animals out in the open, and some hiding in the sawgrass while taking an Everglades airboat tour in Miami. But there are a few things to do and consider before taking an airboat ride that will help your chances.

Consider the Time of Year

Everglades Birdwatching

Over 350 species of birds have been sighted in the Everglades. The largest and most diverse concentration of birds occurs here during Everglades dry season, from December through mid-May. The cooler air brings in migratory birds like bluebirds from the north, and even tropical birds like Flamingos from the Caribbean. The lower water levels of the dry season help local wading birds like the Great Blue Heron and Roseate spoonbill nest and raise their young.

But, we can’t forget the most famous species of Everglades wildlife…

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Best Time to Spot Everglades Alligators

Alligators often prefer the cooler temperatures of the dry season, but are active for much of the year. Alligator mating season in the Everglades lasts from mid-April through May, followed by nesting season from June and July. By August, you’ll see baby alligators swimming and hear their tiny roars coming from the sawgrass.

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Become Familiar with Everglades Wildlife

When you take an Everglades airboat tour in Miami, you will be guided be true blue Gladesmen that are very knowledgeable of Everglades wildlife. They can help you identify animals and answer questions you might have about them. But, if you do a little studying on the animals you’d like to see beforehand, you can spot them on your airboat ride more easily.

Consider the Temperature

With average temperatures in the 80’s or higher, the summer in South Florida can get very hot, especially for the animals. Summer temperatures can also stretch into late spring and early fall, too.

Like Florida’s human residents, most animals spend much of the day trying to keep cool and avoid the sun. As a result, many birds and other Everglades wildlife are most active in the morning and early afternoon during the summertime.

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Keep a Lookout for Movement

Alligators can spend a lot of time in the water, and can be so still they’re often mistake for logs! That ripple you just saw in the water might not have been a large mouth bass. Wading birds like egrets and herons also stalk their prey so slowly that you can miss them standing by the cat tails and sawgrass.

And keep an eye out for color differences of objects you see against each other. Birds can’t be sneaky and pretty at the same time if you’re watching closely!

As incredible as the Everglades are, the biodiversity of this ecosystem makes it even more unique. It’s a sure bet that you’ll see a good number of animals while airboating in Miami. Make sure to keep an eye out for them, and remember that timing is everything!

Keep the season and time of day in mind when planning your Everglades trip. But no matter when you take your airboat ride at Mack’s Fish Camp, you’ll get to see these animals up close and in their natural habitat.


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Islands on The River of Grass: Everglades Tree Islands

There is a common misconception that the Florida Everglades is just a giant, grassy swamp. It’s actually made of several different habitats, each full of distinct flora, including trees. When you visit the Everglades, you’ll notice many clusters of trees standing tall against the wet prairie and sawgrass marsh. These small hammocks are known as Everglades tree islands.

What Are Tree Islands?

Tree islands are small forests that sit on land just dry enough for them to take root. But, there’s more to it than that. Everglades tree islands are formed on land that is elevated just slightly, in some cases only by inches!

They can be made of tropical hardwood trees, ferns, cypress, and other topical plant species. Before the Everglades were drained in the 1920’s, the freshwater sheetflow went around the tree islands. As a result, many of them have an elongated, teardrop shape, with the rounded end pointed toward the water flow.

A Shelter for Everglades Wildlife

Being the only spots of dry earth outside of the pine rocklands and hardwood hammocks, tree islands can act as a dry oasis for Everglades wildlife. Reptiles, birds, and mammals that feed in the wet prairie use them for shelter to rest or hide from predators.

Many birds, including the Everglades snail kite, nest on these islands. White tailed deer also frequent them, because if they spend too much time in water they can develop hoof rot, which can be fatal.

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Everglades Snail Kite

Where Did They Come From?

The ground that Everglades tree islands rest on was long-believed to be bedrock that slowly rose over time. It was recently revealed by a team of scientists that these spots were middens, garbage piles from centuries-old human settlements. The researchers found bones, shell tools, and charcoal, which would’ve helped create an elevated dry area where plants could grow.

The phosphates from the bones acted as fertilizer, and the roots reached further into the bedrock for water. This setup helped tree islands to not only form, but continue to thrive now!

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Everglades Tree Island

Everglades tree islands don’t just add an air of mystery to this ecosystem. They enhance its unique beauty as well as its elevation, and also provide homes to countless animals. Taking a private airboat tour at Mack’s Fish Camp can give you the chance to see them up close!