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The Southeastern Coast, Natural Features

Okefenokee Swamp, sloping edge, ecological niche, preservationists, grain sorghum

The Southeastern Coast is a land of gentle slopes, poor drainage, and fragile environment. Except in Florida, sediments of marine origin underlie almost the entire region. These sedimentary beds extend into the sea as part of the Continental Shelf, the gently sloping edge of the continent covered by seawater. The peninsula of Florida is a recently-emerged mass of carbonate rocks, largely limestone. It is characterized by an immense area of inadequate drainage in the south and by underground streams, sinkholes, and pits in the north. Below the surface, limestone formations contain caverns. Most are water-filled. Sometimes the fragile roof of a cavern collapses, creating sinkholes that soon fill with water to become small lakes.

Many great rivers empty into the sea in this region, including the Mississippi and Rio Grande rivers. At the mouths of these rivers is a rich mixture of inland silt, fresh water, and sea water, which provides an ecological niche that supports a remarkable range of birds, reptiles, fish, and mammals, as well as distinctive plant life. Natural features include the shallow, sluggish waterways of the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee in Florida, the Okefenokee Swamp on the Georgia-Florida border, and the bayous of the Mississippi delta.

Along the Southeastern Coast, human activities—industry, construction, and mining—have often damaged wetlands and caused ecological problems. This region has seen confrontations between developers and preservationists over a number of issues. The effects of pesticides are heatedly debated in southern Louisiana. In southern Florida, the future of the Everglades, a vast marsh, remains unresolved because much of the water that formerly drained into the marsh is being diverted for agricultural irrigation and household use.

The region’s natural features and geography are closely connected to its economic development. Poor drainage and poor soils are problems for agriculture, but these are partially offset by the advantages of a long growing season and adequate moisture. These advantages allow growing of subtropical, off-season specialty crops, such as vegetables and citrus fruits. The growing season of this region is typically more than 320 days a year. Productive agriculture, much of it subtropical, thrives. Crops include rice, sugarcane, citrus fruits, cotton, and grain sorghum. Beef cattle are grazed in the region. The nearness of the ocean provides ports for shipping and supports a fishing industry. The ocean, beaches, and a warm climate also support the tourist industry.

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