The Ten Thousand Islands in Florida
The Ten Thousand Islands have attracted humans since before written history was kept. Prehistoric humans inhabited the area. They constructed large shell midden complexes on several islands. Then Spanish explorers traded with the native population and exposed them to diseases for which they had no natural immunity and the native dwellers were wiped out by disease.
It was during the 1880’s when white settlers first inhabited some of the larger islands. They made their livings by fishing. Then creature comforts like electricity, telephones and indoor plumbing became available in places like Everglades City, Marco Island and Naples so the pioneer families that were living on the islands chose to relocate to the mainland. Today the Ten Thousand Islands are uninhabited and the area appears much as it did when the first settlers arrived.
In 1996 The Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge was established. It is located in Collier County on the Southwest coast of Florida. There are 35,000 acres that are protected that include mangrove habitats and a rich diversity of native wildlife, including several endangered species. The lower two-thirds is mostly mangrove forest. The northern third of the refuge is made up mostly of brackish marsh and ponds. There are small coastal hammocks of oak, cabbage palms, and tropical hardwoods such as gumbo limbo.
The Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Reserve is home to at least 200 varieties of fish...that many have been documented but there may be many more that are yet to be documented. There are sea grass beds and mangrove bottoms are virtual nurseries for fish.
More than one hundred ninety species of birds call the refuge home at some time of the year. These birds include species of wading birds, shorebirds, diving water birds, and raptors.
Bottle-nosed Dolphins, river otters and raccoons call the Ten Thousand Islands home and all can be seen in abundance. Some of the endangered species that live in the Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge are West Indian manatees, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, wood storks, and the Atlantic loggerheads, green, and Kemp's Ridley sea turtles.
The Ten Thousand Islands are a maze of mangrove islands and waterways. Mangrove trees are a dark shade of green. Birds roost in the trees and fish use the undersides as nurseries for their young. Along the Gulf of Mexico there are narrow beaches that are shaded by sea grapes, gumbo limbo, and Jamaican dogwood. In the spring time there is a riot of color. On all of the islands black mangroves and red mangroves serve to prop up the white mangroves that can’t tolerate as much salt water. There actually two very amazing ecosystems that can be seen. In the northern third of the refuge you find cattails, bulrushes, cord grass, and black needle rush. At the far upper end of the refuge there is enough high ground for slash pine, live oak cabbage palms and pigeon plum to grow.
The Ten Thousand Island Wildlife Refuge is a truly amazing place and one that you should see. Even the bug bites are worth the trip!