UNESCO: Everglades National Park

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.

UNESCO World Heritage Site description are available for use under CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0 


Everglades National Park
This site at the southern tip of Florida has been called ‘a river of grass flowing imperceptibly from the hinterland into the sea’. The exceptional variety of its water habitats has made it a sanctuary for a large number of birds and reptiles, as well as for threatened species such as the manatee.

Outstanding Universal Value
Brief synthesis
Everglades National Park is the largest designated sub-tropical wilderness reserve on the North American continent. Its juncture at the interface of temperate and sub-tropical America, fresh and brackish water, shallow bays and deeper coastal waters creates a complex of habitats supporting a high diversity of flora and fauna. It contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie and the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in North America.

Criterion (viii): The Everglades is a vast, nearly flat, seabed that was submerged at the end of the last Ice Age. Its limestone substrate is one of the most active areas of modern carbonate sedimentation.

Criterion (ix): The Everglades contains vast subtropical wetlands and coastal/marine ecosystems including freshwater marshes, tropical hardwood hammocks, pine rocklands, extensive mangrove forests, saltwater marshes, and seagrass ecosystems important to commercial and recreational fisheries. Complex biological processes range from basic algal associations through progressively higher species and ultimately to primary predators such as the alligator, crocodile, and Florida panther; the food chain is superbly evident and unbroken. The mixture of subtropical and temperate wildlife species is found nowhere else in the United States.

Criterion (x): Everglades National Park is a noteworthy example of viable biological processes. The exceptional variety of its water habitats has made it a sanctuary for a large number of birds and reptiles and it provides refuge for over 20 rare, endangered, and threatened species. These include the Florida panther, snail kite, alligator, crocodile, and manatee. It provides important foraging and breeding habitat for more than 400 species of birds, includes the most significant breeding grounds for wading birds in North America and is a major corridor for migration.

Everglades National Park, at 610,670 hectares, of which 567,000 hectares were inscribed as a World Heritage site (the park has since been expanded), is at the center of a complex of federal and state (Florida) protected areas, including the Big Cypress National Preserve (295,000 hectares), Biscayne National Park (70,000 hectares), Dry Tortugas National Park (24,300 hectares), 10 National Wildlife Refuges, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Just to the north (upstream) of the park the wetlands are protected within Florida state-managed Water Conservation Areas (350,000 hectares). To the east of the park Miami-Dade County has established an urban development boundary, preserving a buffer area of rural and agricultural lands from rapid urbanization.

Within Everglades National Park strict natural, managed natural and developed zones have been identified, and 86% of the park is in federally legislated wilderness. In keeping with the tenor of the 1934 authorizing legislation, the development of visitor facilities has progressed according to a concept of preserving the park’s essential wilderness qualities and keeping developmental encroachments to a minimum. About 0.1% of the park can be considered developed. While the park contains just 20 percent of the original Everglades ecosystem, it is a good representation of the range of original habitats.

Water management manipulations have been recognized as the largest environmental threat to the park and the larger Everglades ecosystem. The water flow volumes into the northern boundary of the park are believed to have decreased by approximately 60 percent compared to estimates of pre-drainage flows. Problems with water quality and with changes in the timing and distribution of inflows have also been well documented, and these have had detrimental impacts on the native wildlife and vegetation populations. The park’s legal boundaries encompass the southern end of a 4,660,000 hectares watershed that covers the southern third of the State of Florida. Water is diverted in upstream areas to provide flood protection and water supply for the expanding south Florida human population. In the northern wetlands of the park, reduced inflows have caused a loss of deep-water slough communities that are required to support healthy populations of fish and aquatic invertebrates, and wading bird populations are estimated at just 10% of pre-drainage levels. Elevated nutrients from agricultural effluents have altered the natural populations of emergent plants, leading to invasions by nutrient tolerant species, and a loss of the algal associations known as periphyton. Increased salinity in Florida Bay, due to reduced freshwater deliveries, has contributed to major changes in submerged aquatic vegetation, declines in many sportfish, and the spread of algal blooms.

The park is also facing a challenge from the introduction of numerous non-native species, including in particular the Burmese python, which has proliferated in the park. Loss of organic soils across park habitats, due to wildfires and oxidation associated with overdrainage, occurred during and after the major elements of the water management system were constructed between 1900 and 1970. Although hurricanes are a natural phenomenon in the region, intense or frequent storms can damage the already strained ecosystem. Finally, increasing ocean acidification may affect biogeochemical processes related to carbonate precipitation, particularly along the southwestern boundary between Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Protection and management requirements
Designated by the U.S. Congress in 1934 as a national park, Everglades National Park is managed under the authority of the Organic Act of August 25, 1916 which established the United States National Park Service (NPS).  In addition, the park has specific enabling legislation which provides broad congressional direction regarding the primary purposes of the park. Numerous other federal laws bring additional layers of protection to the park and its resources. Day to day management is directed by the Park Superintendent.

Management goals and objectives for the property are guided through the General Management Plan and the park’s Foundation Document, which provides additional guidance for planning and management.  In addition, the NPS has established Management Policies which provide broader direction for all units nation-wide, including Everglades National Park.

Strong cooperative partnerships and/or formal agreements are in place with the various Federal, State, Local, and Tribal governments that manage the Everglades. The South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force formally coordinates the ecosystem restoration related programs of all of these agencies. Consultation with stakeholders is a requirement of the Everglades Restoration process. The Everglades Coalition, which brings together the major environmental non-governmental stakeholders in south Florida, works to bring greater attention to environmental protection requirements.

The native plant and animal communities of southern Florida are extremely vulnerable to disturbance from human activities, and are threatened by agricultural and urban expansion, drainage, deliberate and accidental burning, water and air pollution, and the introduction of exotic species.

Management actions primarily involve the implementation of flow restoration and water quality improvement projects to be constructed in the upstream basins, and focus on re-establishment of flow in the central part of the ecosystem, including the park.


John William Bailly 29 August 2022

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