Photo: Karen Parker, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Gator (Some rights reserved)
Spotlight on the National Wildlife Refuge and National Wilderness Area Okefenokee – a name which comes from a Native American word meaning “land of the trembling earth.” New in 2023 – the submission of the area as a World Heritage Site.
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia covers over 400,000 acres, including 92% of the Okefenokee Swamp. This swamp is ecologically significant as it serves as the origin of two rivers, one flowing into the Atlantic Ocean and the other into the Gulf of Mexico. The refuge also contains extensive, untouched peat deposits.
The Okefenokee is among the world’s largest natural freshwater ecosystems, showcasing various habitat types, including 21 different vegetation types. Its fauna is globally renowned for its diverse range of amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds, fishes, and invertebrates, possibly including up to 1,000 species of moths.
What sets Okefenokee apart from many other wetlands is that it is the starting point of rivers, not their endpoint like in a delta. This means it is less susceptible to disruptions in natural hydrology and water flow. Additionally, the refuge’s pristine peat beds contain valuable information about environmental conditions spanning the last 5,000 years and offer significant insights into global changes.
The pending nomination comes after a bipartisan effort led by Senator Jon Ossoff, Representative Buddy Carter, and other members of Georgia’s congressional delegation, who urged the Park Service to propose the site for listing.
- In which Indigenous language does Okefenokee mean land of the trembling earth?
fws.gov: Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge conserves the unique qualities of the Okefenokee Swamp for future generations to enjoy. The swamp is considered the headwaters of the Suwannee and St Marys Rivers. Habitats provide for threatened and endangered species, and a wide variety of other wildlife. It is world renowned for its amphibian populations that are bio-indicators of global health.
U.S. to nominate Okefenokee Swamp refuge for listing as UNESCO World Heritage site – AP News
Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge in Georgia to be nominated as World Heritage Site – AJC
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Moves Toward World Heritage List – Defenders of Wildlife
- The refuge draws more than 700,000 tourists a year and is a major driver in Southeast Georgia’s rural economy.