Have you ever wanted to explore a coral reef? Do you want to see an alligator in the wild? Have you ever wanted to bike through tunnels of trees? What if I told you all of these things were right in your backyard? Miami is surrounded by a vast expanse of nature just waiting to be discovered.
One of the first places you will want to go on your adventure is Biscayne National Park. Be prepared to get wet because 95% of this park is water! Under the water there is a vast expanse of coral reefs, covering half of the area of the park, and it is home to many types of fish. You can explore the coral reef by grabbing a kayak or get up even closer by snorkeling. Just like the bustling city of Miami, the reef is active both day and night. Coral and the fish that live there feed at different times throughout the day and night in order to make sure that they have enough food for everyone. Sea turtles will travel from all over to lay their eggs in the sand. The beaches in the park make for perfect nesting grounds for endangered sea turtles. The shoreline of the bay is a nursery for fish and crustaceans, always teeming with babies. The Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Project are people trying to help maintain all of the ecosystems found within the park. Their current project is an attempt to redistribute water flow so that freshwater is no longer dumped from drainage canals in short, heavy bursts but gradually introduced through creeks and marshes. This place is truly a water wonderland!
Just to the north of Biscayne National Park there is Virginia Key. Virginia Key is an 863-acre barrier island that has a diverse mix of ecosystems from coastal hammocks, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests! This key is home to the largest mangrove wetland in the state and you are able to rent bikes to explore the entire key for yourself. Both red and black mangroves can be found here and do an important job of filtering urban runoff with their complex root systems. Mangrove trees also help to protect the shoreline of the land they surround by protecting it from erosion. Citizens for a Better South Florida has been actively attempting to restore the natural ecology of the key. They are currently working on a 15-acre Hammock area where they are removing invasive vegetation and restoring native plants such as the Florida Silver Palm and the Biscayne Prickly Ash.
Our last stop on our journey is Everglades National Park. This is the largest subtropical wilderness in the entire United States! Time, weather, and water have sculpted a unique landscape of swamp and forest that is teeming with a wide variety of animals. There are many things to do here including canoeing, kayaking, and hiking various trails in order to explore the vast expanse of nature. The park is home to several threatened and protected species such as the Florida panther, the American crocodile, and the West Indian manatee. All of which you could spot on your adventures! Beneath the ground is home to the Biscayne Aquifer which is where the majority of South Florida’s freshwater, the water you drink everyday, is stored and recharged. Unfortunately, there was a time when people wanted to drain these wetlands in order to develop buildings and agriculture. During this time, the ecosystems suffered significantly from the altering of the natural environment. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is a national effort to restore the south Florida ecosystem and help alleviate water-related issues of the region. This plan has the intention to revitalize the ecosystems within the park and return everything to its natural state.
There are so many things to see and do just outside your front door! Don’t wait, start exploring today!
Photo Credit: Cindy Perez