Invasive Species Turning Florida from Paradise into a Jungle

Genesis relates that God placed man in a paradise known as the Garden of Eden. Man’s role was to work the Garden and to take care of it. A snake got involved, man dropped the ball, and paradise was lost. History appears to be repeating itself in Florida, and we need to be in prayer for the land that God has entrusted us with.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Genesis 2:15

Early residents of the Sunshine State found themselves in a veritable paradise with warm weather and beautiful beaches. Over the years Florida has turned from a paradise into a jungle. As a result of overdevelopment by man, many areas of the state are now concrete jungles. Man’s actions have also led to the introduction of non-native, invasive species including snakes, specifically Burmese Pythons. The presence of these species put Floridians in a real jungle.

Florida is a top destination for tourists. But, according to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food And Agricultural Sciences, it is a national and global hot spot for non-native, invasive species too. The state is the point of entry for about three-quarters of the plants imported into the U.S. and the majority of the world reptile trade. Florida residents get to share the state with thousands of tourists and over 500 non-native fish, wildlife, and plant species.

Because of the presence of these many invasive species, all of Florida’s native habitats–marine, freshwater, and land–are now threatened. The invaders are a cause of great concern practically, financially, and environmentally. Hurricane season is limited to a defined period of time during the year, but invasive species are a threat to Floridians and their environment year around.

The financial impact invasive species have on Florida’s economy is significant. According to The Nature Conservancy, the cost of managing Florida’s invasive plants alone is $100 million annually. The non-native air potato vine, for example, is growing like a proverbial weed–but on steroids. The aggressive, noxious weed can grow up to 8 inches per DAY and smothers vegetation in its path. The cost of weeding out this weed is mounting.

In the reptile category, green iguanas are the bane of property owners. The big lizards’ presence was first reported in Florida in the 1960’s. Since that time their population has mushroomed, and they now infest South Florida. The iguanas are destructive and leave unsanitary droppings behind.

Photo Credit: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Rhesus macaque monkeys appear in Florida’s non-native invasive animal category. In the 1930’s six of these monkeys were brought to Silver Springs in an effort to attract tourists. Although placed on an island in Silver River, the monkeys swam away and took up residence in surrounding forests. About 200 of them are estimated to now be located in Silver Springs State Park alone. The monkeys are prone to approach and intimidate park visitors, resulting in some park areas which the monkeys frequent being closed to visitors.

Florida is known for its beautiful beaches, but danger lurks in the water. Swimming about offshore are lionfish. This nonnative species loves to snack on baby reef fish, decimating that population. These fish are a danger to humans as well. Their fin spines are highly venomous and have led to human deaths.

Most alarming is the presence of Burmese pythons here in Florida. These snakes, while native to Southeast Asia, are Florida’s largest invasive species. Their population in the Sunshine State is believed to exceed 100,000. The first Burmese Python found in Florida was spotted in the Everglades in 1979. It was likely a former pet which was released or escaped into the wild.

Burmese Pythons are wreaking havoc on the environment because they eat endangered species and disrupt natural food chains. They usually live near water, and scientists report that these snakes have eliminated 99% of the native mammals in the Everglades. Burmese Pythons can eat adult deer and gators up to six feet. Their only predators are humans and very large gators.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28

Tens of thousands of Burmese Pythons inhabit the mainland around Everglades National Park. It is currently Burmese Python mating season, so the population will be increasing in the near future. Each adult female lays between 60 and 100 eggs per year.

The increasing presence of Burmese Pythons in the Sunshine State led Nature Conservancy Florida to launch a Python Patrol in the Florida Keys in 2008. This service was expanded to the mainland in 2010. The Python Patrol’s trained responders can safely and humanely capture and remove Burmese Pythons. While Burmese Pythons can grow to 26′ and over 200 pounds, the average size found in Florida is 8-10 feet. Due to the snakes’ size, trained responders should deal with these snakes when they are found.

State government is also taking steps to address the prevalence of pythons. Since March 2017, python hunters have been paid by the State of Florida to catch and kill Burmese Pythons. As a result of this program, around 3,000 such snakes have been exterminated.

To raise public awareness of the python problem, the State of Florida, along with the Florida Wildlife Commission and the South Florida Water Management District, put on the Florida Python Challenge. This Challenge, held in conjunction with the 2020 Super Bowl scheduled for February 2nd in Miami, was also dubbed the 2020 Python Bowl. 550 or so individuals registered to participate in catching and killing invasive Burmese Pythons.

The ten day Python Challenge, that took place January 10th through January 19th, offered prizes to participating hunters. The hunter who caught the largest snake during the Challenge was to be awarded $2,000. The hunter who caught the most Burmese Pythons in the Challenge was to win a Tracker 570 Off Road ATV provided by Bass Pro Shops. Winners were scheduled to be announced January 25th during the opening of Super Bowl Live. VIP guests at this event were to receive python skin footballs.

It is unlikely the Python Challenge will make a big dent in the burgeoning Burmese Python population invading Florida. But the event should raise public awareness of Florida’s python problem in particular and about invasive, non-native species in Florida in general. While recognizing the problem is a good start, man also needs to realize the cause for Florida turning into a jungle. He has failed in his Biblical responsibility to care for God’s earth. The slice of paradise known as Florida is becoming a concrete jungle due to man allowing overdevelopment and a literal jungle due to his lack of oversight in handling non-native species. God provided man with a paradise here in Florida. Will humans step up to the plate to prevent its deterioration into a jungle?

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Alice H. Murray, a Florida adoption attorney with over 25 years of experience, writes non-fiction. She has penned articles for legal professional magazines, her local paper, and a mission magazine. Alice also won an American Bar Association haiku contest. A non-fiction piece of hers was published in Short And Sweet, and a fiction piece was published in Short And Sweet Too. A third piece has been selected for inclusion in another in the Short And Sweet series due out in July 2018. Alice has a manuscript, “Ho Ho Holy Humor—Devotions For A Cheerful Reader,” completed and ready for publication. She blogs regularly at aliceinwonderingland.wordpress.com and tweets as @dawgatty.