Disappearing Florida – Coastal Hammocks

Salt Marsh Hammock - Red Cedars

Unlike most of the photos we’ve featured in our blog, the picture above has not been included for its beauty. The dead red cedars were once part of a thriving “island hammock” – a tree-filled bit of high ground protruding above the high-tide line on a coastal salt marsh; in this case, on the Withlacoochee Coastal Preserve.

Many hammocks in Florida are high-ground hardwood hammocks of oak, live oak and laurel. Coastal hammocks like these pictured are known as “Hydric Hammocks,” consisting mostly of cabbage palm, swamp bay and red cedar. The amount of soil moisture, as well as climate, influence the composition and members of the hammock. For example, when sea levels rise, the roots of the trees become flooded, and if the flooding is too much, the trees drown.

Hammock Withlacooche River

Hammock Withlacooche River

Although some of us resist the idea we are experiencing global warming there seems to be clear evidence that our sea levels are in fact rising. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, published Wildlife 2060: What’s at Stake for Florida? It’s a free download. The report states,

But the greatest challenge by far for our gently sloping coasts may be the rate and magnitude of climate change. Although we cannot accurately predict how much sea level will rise, it will bring dramatic changes to Florida’s coastal habitats, and its fish and wildlife populations.

The University of Florida, sponsors of the Master Naturalist Course, in its session on Coastal Ecology, points out that sea levels are expected to rise 2 to 2.5 feet over the next 100 years.

What has caused the red cedars to die? After a Master Naturalist course field trip, I wrote in my October 2009 blog:

When we think of global warning, we think of melting ice fields at our poles. But the global warming our universe is experiencing also adversely effects our Florida environment. The effect became evident to us in the Withlacooche Gulf Preserve where we saw dead Red Cedars at the edges of the Preserve’s island hammocks. What killed the Cedars? The temperature increases we have experienced have had a “modest” effect on the levels of our shoreline waters and our tides. The increase in sea levels may only be an inch or two, the high tides may only stay around a few minutes longer. But, over time, the roots of the Red Cedar are submerged in more water for a longer time, no matter how “infinitesimal”  the differences appear to us. These small, minute differences are enough to kill these trees.

The oceans and seas of our world have risen and fallen with the ebb and flow of Gaia’s ice ages. A good read on this process is Doug Macdougall’s The Once and Future Story of the Ice Ages, published by the University of California Press. A different problem today from those experienced in the past is the size of the earth’s human population and its penchant to live in a seashore environment. More than the life of the red cedars is at stake.

In October 2010, the Nature Conservancy began a two-year EPA-funded study got underway to understand the effects of the rising waters in estuaries along the Gulf of Mexico. Tampa Bay, where I live, is included in the study.

Hammock Ft. DeSoto Parrk

From January 14, 2011 through March 13, 2011, the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida, will have an important exhibition, Disappearing Florida. I will be privileged to be a participating photo-artist along with Carlton Ward, Jr., Kevin Boldenow, and Laurie Excell. Week-long photography courses will also be taught by Laurie Excell and Joel Sartore of the National Geographic Society, author of Rare, a book about disappearing species. Over the next several weeks, we will continue our look at Disappearing Florida. This is the third in the series.

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5 Comments on "Disappearing Florida – Coastal Hammocks"

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Thank you, fine article.

awesome pictures

Dick, your blogs are such a joy! I don’t know how you do it! You are an
artist AND a talented author.

Regards, Jean

Hi, Dick,

Thank you so much for this important and sobering series. I always look
forward to your blogs and photos, and definitely plan to attend your
upcoming exhibition at the Morean Arts Center this winter.

Terrific photos and words to match. You are on a justified crusade. Bob

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