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Okefenokee Swamp

Aerial photo of Okefenokee Swamp

Okefenokee Swamp

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South Atlantic

About

GENERAL INFORMATION

Criteria
  • Currently a Ramsar Site
  • Protects biological diverse wetland flora, fauna and/or their habitat
  • Supports significant numbers of wetland-dependent fauna, such as water birds or fish
  • Rare or unique wetland type within its own biogeographical region. (Meeting this criteria would include, but is not limited to, wetlands with unique hydrology or chemistry that make it rare within its own region)

The Okefenokee Swamp is a Wetland of International Importance per the Ramsar Convention of 1971. National Geographic magazine named the Okefenokee Swamp as one of the 100 Most Beautiful Places on Earth in 2012. There are 21 habitat types within the swamp, and this structural diversity contributes to high species richness and biodiversity with over 850 plant species and over 200 bird species that live within or use the swamp. Many carnivorous plants can be found in the swamp, and the swamp is known for its high concentrations of pitcher plants. According to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, animals include 64 reptile, 50 mammal, 39 fish, and 37 amphibian species. In total, over 400 vertebrate species live within or use the swamp for part of their life history. It is estimated that 10,000 to 13,000 American alligators inhabit the swamp, serving as the apex predator of this ecosystem.

The Okefenokee Swamp is the largest blackwater wetland ecosystem in North America, and it is the least disturbed and most intact freshwater ecosystem on the Atlantic Coastal Plain, which is itself a global biodiversity hotspot. The swamp is astoundingly beautiful, with moss-covered cypress trees standing above flowering plants floating on tea-colored blackwaters. Okefenokee is believed to be a Creek Indian word meaning “trembling earth” as some of the “land” in the swamp is comprised of partially buoyant peat deposits that move and shake when walked upon, or when the wind blows on the vegetation and trees. Peat deposits in the swamp are up to 15 feet deep, and the total peat volume is estimated to be around 401 million cubic meters.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (fws.gov)


Exemplary Ecosystem Services:

  • Maintains ecological connectivity/cohesion
  • Aesthetic/cultural heritage value/ provisioning
  • Recreation (birdwatching, ecotourism)
  • Carbon storage
  • Education


Over 600,000 nature lovers, birders, paddlers, and astronomers visit the swamp annually, and there are over 120 miles of water trail in the swamp. The swamp has supported human habitation for over 4,000 years. The Okefenokee Swamp Park collaborates with the Okefenokee Regional Education Service Agency and provides science outreach programs free-of-charge to any public school in Atkinson, Bacon, Brantley, Camden, Charlton, Clinch, Coffee, Pierce, and Ware Counties (Southeast Georgia). 

Outreach Programs at Okefenokee Swamp Park - Okefenokee Swamp Park & Adventures (okeswamp.org)

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge | About Us | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (fws.gov)

CONSERVATION STATUS AND THREATS

Conservation status: Ramsar Designation, National Government Protection

Adjacent Land Use: Forested wetland, Upland Forest/Woodland

Approximate natural buffer width: > 100 ft

Other information:

The Okefenokee Swamp is nearly entirely contained within a USFWS National Wildlife Refuge, and the swamp is also designated as a Wilderness Area. The site has limited public access through three sites that include boat launches and foot trails:

  • Stephen C. Foster State Park, 17515 Highway 177, Fargo, GA 31631
  • USFWS Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters, 4155 Suwannee Canal Road, Folkston, GA 31537;
  • Okefenokee Swamp Park, 5700 Okefenokee Swamp Park Rd, Waycross, Georgia 31503
ECOLOGY

Approximate size: 165,000 hectares. The swamp is not all wet – there are numerous islands within the swamp, some nearly a thousand ha in size.
General wetland characterization: 
  • Inland Shallow Fresh Marsh
  • Inland Deep Fresh Marsh
  • Inland Open Fresh Water
  • Inland Fresh Shrub Swamp
  • Inland Fresh Wooded Swamp
  • Inland Fresh Bog

Adjacent Water Bod(ies): 

  • Stream

Name of body of water: The Okefenokee Swamp is the headwaters of two notable regional rivers: the Suwanee and St Marys Rivers. These rivers begin as outflows from the swamp.

Surficial Geology:

FLORA AND FAUNA

Dominant flora:  Okefenokee NWR is a vast natural wilderness area that is fire-dependent. Fires have historically preserved its unique mosaic of plant communities. This landscape is dominated by the Okefenokee Swamp, which is within the drainage divide area between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. It is composed of a mosaic of dense swamps, freshwater marshes, small lakes and ponds, upland islands and upland forests. Swamp forests of pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens), titi (Cyrilla racemiflora), hurrahbush (Lyonia lucida), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), and loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus) cover the majority of the swamp. Shrub-dominated wetlands are prominent in the landscape providing shelter and food for a diverse group of wildlife. These wetlands are dominated by titi, hurrahbush, and fetterbush (Leucothoe racemosa) and covered with bamboo greenbriar (Smilax laurifolia) and Walter’s greenbriar (Smilax walteri). Shallow emergent marshes are dominated by yellow-eyed grass (Xyris spp.) and Walter’s sedge (Carex walteriana) and deeper rooted golden club (Orontium aquaticum) or floating fragrant water lily (Nymphaea odorata). Forested uplands of slash pine (Pinus elliottii), longleaf pine (P. palustris), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) and gallberry (Ilex glabra) occur on the sandy islands and ridges.

Unique flora: There are two known sites within the swamp that have old growth cypress. These escaped logging in the early 1900’s with some trees aged at 400-500 years old. Another area that escaped logging was Number One Island where there is an old growth slash pine stand that is approximately 250 years old. The major emphasis on the uplands is the restoration of the native longleaf pine community. The diversity of plant species within the groundcover is characteristic of this habitat and promotes frequent low-intensity fires. Grasses such as wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana) and dropseed (Sporobolis curtissii) are desirable.

Dominant fauna: The majority of active management on the refuge is focused on the upland pine forests surrounding the swamp and the habitats used by the endangered Red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) (Picoides borealis). Management to enhance RCW habitat also enhances the native habitat of the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi), and the Bachman’s sparrow (Aimophila aestivalis). The maintenance of the ephemeral pools associated with the longleaf pine communities is critical for species such as the striped newt (Notophthalamus perstriatus) and other amphibians. A healthy population of Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridianus), numbering about 800 individuals, roam the Okefenokee NWR and surrounding timberlands. The refuge provides quality denning sites in old hollow cypress trees. Wading birds are a prominent feature of the Okefenokee Swamp. The major species are the great egret (Ardea alba), great-blue heron (Ardea herodias), little blue heron (Egretta caerulea), white ibis (Eudocimus albus), wood stork (Mycteria americana), and green-backed heron (Butorides striatus). All but the wood stork nest regularly on the refuge.

The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), considered a sentinel of the swamp, is also one of its prime landscape architects. The Okefenokee Swamp is criss-crossed with alligator trails and small alligator pools that have been excavated from the peat. This forms a network of travel corridors used by many other species inhabiting the swamp. The population of alligators is estimated at around 10,000 to 12,000 individuals depending on water level fluctuations.


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION


Additional Info

Wetland location : Georgia/Florida USA

Name of Wetland : Okefenokee Swamp

Images

Aerial photo of Okefenokee Swamp
Chesser Prairie
Pitcher Plants
Vegetation
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