Custard Apple Swamp, An Ecological History of Southern Lake Okeechobee by Zachariah A. Cosner
The document I share with you today, is one I fell in love with two years ago. At the time, Zachariah Cosner was a student writing his thesis at the University of Miami, today he works for the City of South Miami.
Zac’s ecological history of the destruction of Lake Okeechobee’s Custard Apple Forest is a metaphor for the ecological destruction of all South Florida. What was lost? What was torn from the earth, roots sprawling, piled up like bodies and burned? 32,000 acres of ancient trees, bird rookeries, wildlife habitat, tangled linen-colored moonvine, as well as God’s sieve “to filter and purify the waters of Lake Okeechobee before they began the long southerly route through the ridges and sloughs of the river of grass… ”
This story, this ecological genocide was the beginnings of the Everglades Agricultural Area and is a story basically untold, forgotten. I post it here today with Zac’s permission for reference and access for all. Please click on link below:
I hope everyone had a happy Mother’s Day yesterday! One of our “around the table” family discussions went like this:
Jacqui:” I’m getting a new headshot this week because now my hair is gray.”
Sister Jenny: “Why? Are you running for office?”
Jacqui:” No, not now. But I want my blog photo to look like me.”
Sister Jenny: “Why!” 🙂
Whether it’s my hair, or our natural landscape, things are always changing! I think it’s important to let young people, like my niece Evie, Jenny’s daughter, almost 18 and entering the world, know what our natural landscape looked like “before,” as they will be dealing with water issues we can’t even imagine.
One of the least documented changes of Florida is the demolition of the pond apple belt of Lake Okeechobee. I hope in time, the younger generation finds a way to recreate its original natural purpose that was to strain, slow down, and clean the lake water flowing south into the sawgrass plains of the Everglades. Another benefit was flood protection. Nature’s adapted protections out-do mankind’s every time…
In pre-drainage times, the original features of Lake Okeechobee helped contain it. There was the Okeechobee Sand Ridge; the Southern Ridge; the Spillover Lands; and the fossilized coral ridge.
The Sand Ridge extended from Martin County to Palm Beach County ~just north of Pahokee. There was a cut in this ridge where water could more easily escape east at today’s historic village of Sand Cut along the eastern shoreline. Archaeologists believe this Sand Ridge running along the lake was an old shoreline. It is stated in the research of the Boyer Survey, An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, by Christian Davenport, Gregory Mount and George Boyer Jr., that only the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee was “defined by a sand shore.” Today the Army Corp has built a dike along and over this sand shore with the addition of extra boulders for protection. Very unattractive. The original pond apple forest would not just have been more lovely, but would have helped in times of storms ~ similar to how mangroves, even in front of a seawall, do today.
The Southern Ridge was a high muck ridge that had formed at the southern end of the lake and was located in a “massive belt of pond apple trees.” This forest was completely mowed-down to access the deep muck for agricultural purposes. It was 32,000 acres! (Lawrence E. Will) The towns of *Port Mayaca, Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay, and Clewiston south today’s Lake Okeechobee are located in what was once the pond apple forest. Surreal, isn’t it?
These trees grow closely together and can get very large. They have weird roots kind of like mangroves. My husband Ed and I bought a lot along Overlook Drive in Stuart and oddly or interestingly enough in this area there are pond apple trees. According to the study, the original lands of Lake Okeechobee sloped towards the lake, meaning the lake would have been as much as two miles wider during periods of high water. (The forest and the shape of the land held the water in the lake.) Along the southern edge “dead rivers” cut through this muck ridge and were the primary outlet during times of high waters. (Boyer Survey)
Spillover Lands was the archeological term for the lower-sawgrass plains extending beyond the southern side of the pond apple forest. Here sheet flow was created that moved and melded into the Everglades, basically a littoral marsh.
By the way the “dead rivers” were anything but dead, some very deep and very long. The word “dead” was applied as some of the original explores could not find “the end,” and I believe this word suits today’s powers well as the word “dead” makes one think they had no life. The complete opposite is the truth. They were full of life! All the animals of the Everglades, including hundreds of birds colonies lived in these areas that were completely DESTROYED.
The final formation mentioned in the Boyer Survey is an ancient Fossilized Coral Ridge (Reef) that runs from approximately Okeelanta to Immokalee. In pre-drainage times, this muck covered reef caused a higher elevation that is thought to have helped retain some of the water within the Spillover Lands during times of low water. Hmmm? Another Nature feature that works better than our manmade ideas for drought protection today – deep well injection, and other brilliant ideas….
Well, I hope you enjoyed today’s lesson! And I hope some young people like my niece Evie in the photo at the beginning of this blog read this post some day. Gray hair can be dyed or glorified, but the natural features of Lake Okeechobee in the heart of Florida, they must be rebuilt as part of today’s modern eco-system.
Published on Oct 16, 2015
This overlay flight shows the following maps:
– 1907 Official Map of the Everglades Patent 137 conveyed to Florida on January 2, 1905
– Map of the Everglades Patent 137 re-recorded in Plat Books of Broward County, originally recorded in Plat Book B, Page 131, Dade County Florida
– 1924-1925 USCGS Maps of the Airplane Survey of Lake Okeechobee
After taking a counterclockwise lap around the shoreline of Lake Okeechobee while viewing the 1925 surveys, we return to South Bay.
Section 2 of Township 44 South, Range 36 East, north of the town of South Bay, was originally under the waters of South Bay. On 12/31/1888 that section was conveyed by TIFF to the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad Company. The area of the Lake is now sugarcane farms.
Lake Okeechobee used to be a much larger lake. It crested at about 21 feet to fall over an undefined edge of sawgrass and in some areas a pond apple forest.
Since the late 1800s the lake has slowly had its undefined edge pushed back and dammed. The lake perhaps holds about 30% less water than it originally could. Those overflow waters today are plumed to drain into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee so that the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) can exist. Watch this amazing historic map/Google Earth video created by my brother Todd Thurlow and see for yourself!
South Bay, for instance…Todd explains: “You can see on Google Earth where the canals and levees follow the old shoreline of South Bay, now 5.8 miles from open water, but 2 miles from the rim canal. That Section 2, which was under the bay, was conveyed to the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad Company by TIIF deed on 12/31/1888. It looks like there is a little town there called South Bay…”