The Everglades spans from Orlando along the Kissimmee River discharging into the large and shallow Lake Okeechobee. During the wet season, water leaving the lake forms a slow moving river over 60 miles wide and 100 miles long across the limestone shelf until it reaches the Florida Bay. As Captain Wayne (our own American Crocodile Dundee) from Boggy Creek Airboat rides described, it’s possible to walk through the Everglades from Orlando to Miami and the water wouldn’t reach much higher than your knees, although you might lose a foot to a ‘gator – which explains the popularity of the hover air boat.
Just 30 minutes from Walt Disney World, Boggy Creek Airboat rides keeps its fleet on the waters edge of Lake Tohopekaliga, meaning ‘we will gather together here’. Donning our ear defenders, Capt. Wayne revved up the giant fan and we flew at 45 mph into the saw grass marshes towards a lone Bald Cypress which emerged from its roots sunk deep underneath the swampy water. Apple Snails were using it as a breeding ground, leaving large bright pink cocoons, like a fuchsia potato croquette, for hatching.
Completely dominating the horizon were bald cypress trees and live oaks with long floral beards made of Spanish Moss which absorbs nutrients and water from the air and rainfall. We noticed these long green dreadlocks as far North as New Orleans and it was once used as the traditional filling for voodoo dolls. But it was amongst the lilypads and reeds, that we spotted the top predator of the local food chain – Alligator mississippiensis.
To be honest, with the racket of the air boat I was astonished to see any ‘gators, let alone three, who calming raise their long snouts to the water’s surface as if simply checking out the disturbance from an afternoon’s nap. The Everglades provides the perfect wetland habitat for the American alligator, which was officially removed from the endangered list in 1987 after huge restoration efforts. An adult male can grow up to 4 metres in length and has a bite force of over 2000 pounds per square inch, over double that of a lion.