Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Research Reveals Threat to Super Ghost Orchid and Wetlands

Drying and wetland loss increase large scale risks of catastrophic wildfire, flooding in big storms, and polluted water fueling Red Tide and Blue-Green Algal blooms.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Collier County has made headlines recently with the publication of two research papers on 60 years of Sanctuary water level data, plus a National Geographic feature of this research describing how it impacts Corkscrew’s “Super” Ghost Orchid. 

Corkscrew’s Western Everglades Research Center Director, Shawn Clem, Ph.D., and longtime Florida ecological consultant, Mike Duever, Ph.D., reveal dry season water levels at the Sanctuary have been precipitously declining since about 2000, impacting all wetlands of the Swamp. While the causes are unknown, researchers suspect that the destruction of wetlands and their capacity to store and clean water, as well as overdrainage for downstream flood protection and overpumping for farms and urban water supply, are the primary culprits. Dry season water losses pose a serious threat to Corkscrew’s native plants and animals, not only for the Ghost Orchid but for imperiled Wood Storks as well. Orchids depend on the humid microclimates of swamps like Corkscrew to survive fire and freezes, and storks depend on dry down conditions to concentrate prey during nesting season.

These water declines also appear to be regional, affecting most of Southwest Florida’s conservation lands, including the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve, and Fakahatchee Strand Preserve. Drying and wetland loss increase large scale risks of catastrophic wildfire, flooding in big storms, and polluted water fueling Red Tide and Blue-Green Algal blooms.

Audubon is countering these threats by executing a hydrologic model with the Big Cypress Basin of the South Florida Water Management District to identify causes and solutions. For years, Audubon has been advocating that Everglades Restoration and better protection of wetlands and water resources are fundamental protection and restoration strategies. These recent discoveries drive the urgency home and are more important now than ever.

Learn more about Ghost Orchid research at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

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