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Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
A group of people with brooms on the boardwalk
Sanctuary Sustains Minor Damage During Hurricane Ian: Re-opening October 8
Hurricane Ian significantly changed the shape of Southwest Florida’s coastline and the lives of many who live near it. Fortunately, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary's iconic boardwalk and Blair Audubon Center sustained only minor damage. In the days following the storm, as power began to return to neighborhoods, our staff assessed the condition of the Sanctuary and began to clean up. This team, including several dedicated volunteers, cleared trees that fell on the boardwalk, made minor repairs, and removed the blanket of leafy debris strewn across the length of the 2.25-mile boardwalk and parking area.

We are excited that the Sanctuary will reopen to members and visitors looking to find some serenity in the swamp this Saturday, October 8.  See a slideshow of photos from after the storm.
Sanctuary staff and volunteers repaired and cleaned the boardwalk.
View of the wet prairie from the boardwalk.
The Swamp is Doing Its Job
Hurricane Ian brought record-breaking rainfall to Florida. Though Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary remained on the “dry” side of the storm, we received 5.8 inches of rainfall over the course of four days. Data loggers recorded near-record high water levels immediately following the storm, but water levels have already begun to slowly fall as fresh water moves toward our estuaries and coast.

Why This Matters

This is the beauty and value of wetlands like ours: they protect habitat and local communities from flooding. When so much rain falls in a short time, floodwaters must go somewhere. Our wetlands not only hold this water during severe weather events, but they also remove nutrients from surface water, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires in our community, and provide habitat to many of our threatened and thriving wading birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals that call these wetlands home. 

As rivers to our north have finally crested, we are watching as our restoration efforts continue to improve conditions for wildlife while enabling this surface water to percolate down and recharge freshwater aquifers below ground.
View of the wet prairie from the boardwalk.
Hurricane Ian's Rainfall Resulted in Record Water Levels
Graph showing September water levels by year.
Graph caption: Peak annual water level at the Sanctuary across our 67-year water-level dataset. Hurricane Ian marked the fifth time in Sanctuary history that water peaked above 4 feet, with each record high peak associated with major tropical systems.
Hurricane Ian arrived at the end of a particularly wet September for Southwest Florida, bringing a lot of rain to an ecosystem that was already saturated. As mentioned above, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary received 5.8 inches of rainfall over the four days of the storm, making 2022 the second rainiest September in the Sanctuary’s 63-year rainfall record.

Rainfall from Hurricane Ian, both in the Sanctuary and upstream in our watershed, led to record water levels at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary last week.

The Sanctuary’s “B Gauge,” a staff gauge located along the boardwalk at the North Lettuce Lake, has been collecting water-level data for  67 years and provides the most complete long-term water-level dataset in our area. Water levels at the B Gauge have only exceeded the 4-foot mark five times in the Sanctuary’s history, each time associated with a major tropical event: 1960 with Hurricane Donna, 1995 with Tropical Storm Jerry (followed by Hurricane Opal the same year), 2008 with Tropical Storm Fay, 2017 with Hurricane Irma, and 2022 with Hurricane Ian.

The peak water level following Hurricane Ian (4.18 feet) was remarkably similar to the peak water level seen after Hurricane Irma (4.17 feet) just five years ago, both falling short of the all-time high-water mark of 4.47 feet seen in 1995.
A field of sunflowers
What’s Happening with Wildlife?
Wildlife in Florida’s wetland habitats evolved with and depend on change events like hurricanes.

During a storm, songbirds and other animals find a safe space to hunker down, and between the heavy gusts, venture out to grab a meal. Cypress trees bend and some branches break, leaving needles and other plant debris strewn across the landscape; the remaining canopy has become a burnished brown from the wind but will re-green in the spring.

After the storm, our team of staff and volunteers worked to rescue epiphytes, like orchids and bromeliads, that had fallen on the boardwalk, and carefully placed them back on host trees. Along the boardwalk, our team saw raccoons and deer taking advantage of new food resources revealed by wind and water while wading birds foraged nearby in shallow wetlands, where they can access fish. Fallen branches and trees create openings for light to penetrate the canopy, allowing understory species to flourish. Watch a short clip of a white-tailed deer foraging in the flooded prairie.

Across the backcountry, a thick blanket of water provides new habitat for alligators, fish, and frogs that can be seen or heard nearly everywhere in the swamp right now.

Whether it is wind, water, or fire, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s ecosystem depends on periodic disturbances. Now that it is October, Southeastern sunflowers, which benefit from both fire and flood, are providing a sunny backdrop across our wet prairies.  
Southeastern sunflowers just off the boardwalk.

Please consider a donation to help offset the impact of lost revenue while we work to clean up the Sanctuary.

Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
375 Sanctuary Rd., Naples, FL 34120 USA
(239) 348-9151 |

© 2023 National Audubon Society, Inc.

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