In the mornings, before the airboats rev up, the stillness that blankets Mack’s Fish Camp in the Everglades is broken only by splashing fish, bird chirps and shoes on gravel.
Mack’s is one of the last family-owned establishments operated by a traditional Gladesmen family, the Jones. Marshall Jones still runs it much like his father and grandparents did, welcoming visitors who want to angle for bass, take an airboat ride or just get away from the noises and stress of city life.
In this outpost off Krome Avenue near the Miami-Dade Broward county border, swamp buggies share parking with old dogs that howl their welcome to pedestrians. The shop doubles as a museum with yellowed photographs of the Everglades in better days.
The outpost has been in the Jones family for five generations, and used to serve as a meeting ground for everglades explorers, Marshall Jones said.
“Mack’s Fish Camp is my heritage,” he said.
Jones said he can attest to the devastation on the Everglades over the past 40 years. Most recently, a python invasion has wiped out many of the native mammals that used to be so prevalent during hikes in his youth.
He said the population of Everglades mammals has crashed so dramatically the past 15 years that when he takes his kids out on sightseeing tours, they see none. Bobcats, raccoons, opossums, foxes, otters, once so prevalent near his property, have all gone mostly missing.
“The Burmese python and the other large constrictors that now call the everglades home, are a large contributor to the decimation of the population of small game here in the Everglades,” said Jones.
Scientists agree with him.
Davidson College Professor Michael Dorcas, one of the nation’s authorities on invasive pythons, said studies have shown that the population of small and medium size mammals in the everglades has crashed by up to 99 percent in some areas. He blames it on the pythons.
“This species, a single introduced species, has the potential to drastically alter the ecosystem,” Dorcas said in a recent interview. “I would certainly increase funding, specifically to examine density and how it varies over time and area.”
Jones has four young children, and says he is trying to raise them to be conservationists and appreciate the land that makes up their heritage. But if something doesn’t stop the spread of pythons, he fears there will be little wildlife left for his children to protect and appreciate.
“If the problem of the large constrictors in the Everglades is not addressed very soon,” Jones said, “the Everglades as we know it may not exist for much longer, as far as the wildlife is concerned.”
In this week’s video snippet — outtakes of The Python Invasion documentary that will broadcast on WPBT2 later in the year — we watch as Jones takes us on a tour of his turf in search of pythons. This is the 10th of a total of 18 video snippets featured on www.miamiherald.com, which has garnered more than 32,000 views.